- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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DALLAS -- In the days leading up to the 2010 NFL draft, former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi predicted that New England would select tight end Rob Gronkowski. His reasoning was that coach Bill Belichick had been seeking the next Mark Bavaro for years.
Gronkowski, who showed up for Super Bowl festivities Wednesday to take part in a charity event, finished the 2010 season with 42 receptions and 10 touchdowns. It takes that type of production to land on the NFL's Super Bowl radar, with Gronkowski impressing many in his rookie campaign, including Bavaro himself.
"He is the kind of tight end I considered myself, in that type of class of all-around guy -- he is big, fast, can block and catch," Bavaro said Wednesday from his Massachusetts home. "He's definitely the old-school type of tight end."
Bavaro, who first became a Belichick favorite while playing for the New York Giants (1985-90), is an old-school type of guy whose attention often gravitates to those who play his old position. Bavaro had 28 touchdowns over six seasons for the Giants and averaged about 44 catches per year.
While Bavaro views some tight ends in the Shannon Sharpe mold (more receiver types), he is drawn more to the combination players -- those who can dominate as a blocker and a receiver.
Gronkowski, at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, fits best in the latter category.
"I was surprised he was a rookie because he was pretty polished and looked like he had been doing what he was doing for a long time," Bavaro said.
The 21-year-old Gronkowski has yet to meet Bavaro and is too young to remember his career. By the time Bavaro retired in 1995, Gronkowski was only 6.
Earlier this year, Belichick agreed that there were similarities between the two players, but cautioned against putting Gronkowski in that full-fledged Bavaro category just yet. His point was that Bavaro did it over a sustained period of time, and often had some of the toughest assignments in practice when he was called on to block the likes of Lawrence Taylor and Co.
Fair enough, but one aspect of Gronkowski's first season that can't be overlooked is how consistent he was from his arrival after the draft to the playoff loss against the Jets.
He didn't miss a single practice or game, ultimately playing 74 percent of the offensive snaps, more than any other receiver or tight end. Those numbers mean a lot to Gronkowski considering some of the health-related questions that surrounded him when he entered the NFL; namely, he missed his final collegiate season at Arizona because of a back injury, which caused him to slip to the second round and 42nd overall pick.
A scar on his lower back serves as a permanent reminder of that pain, and of the uncertainty some NFL teams had regarding his ability to be a difference-maker. He was a medical risk.
When Gronkowski first arrived in New England, he kept repeating that his medical issues were in the past. But he now acknowledges that it wasn't so easy for him to put them there, because in a sense he had to prove to himself that he was OK again.
"Definitely, first at my pro day, then the summer [practices], and then the first hitting, I was always a little bit worried how it would respond," he said. "After the first time hitting, it felt great and I was like, 'I'm ready to go, for sure.' Now, playing a whole season and not missing a game and a practice, there should be no doubt about that now."
There is also little doubt about Gronkowski's impact. It's no stretch to call it Bavaro-like.
Like Mark Bavaro, Pats' versatile TE Rob Gronkowski fits the Bill Belichick mold.