Tight end Rob Gronkowski gave himself the green light Monday to be in the lineup for the New England Patriots when they visit the Miami Dolphins for the regular-season opener this week.
But he’ll need more than medical clearance to be a full go for Week 1.
“I’m glad Rob is optimistic,” said coach Bill Belichick. “We’ll go through the week of practice, take a look at everything.”
Gronkowski said Monday that he was “ready to go” after missing all of preseason and practicing only on a limited basis during training camp. He was recovering from torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee.
“In the end, we’re going to make the decision that’s best for the football team,” Belichick said Tuesday.
The Patriots acquired tight end Tim Wright from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a trade that sent Pro Bowl offensive guard Logan Mankins to Florida.
In one game against the Dolphins last season, Gronkowski had two catches for 27 yards. He missed the Dec. 15 game at Miami.
Gronkowski has been slowed by injuries that past two seasons. He broke a collarbone in 2012 and tore an ACL in 2013. The injuries limited him to 17 games during that span.
Gronkowski played seven games last season before the ACL tear.
When Gronkowski did play last season, he was productive. In those seven games, he made 39 receptions for 592 yards with four touchdowns.
Long snapper cut
Long snapper Danny Aiken was one of New England’s final, surprising cuts to get down to the 53-man roster limit Saturday. Aiken has been the Patriots’ primary long snapper for the last two seasons. He struggled at times late last season, and faced competition earlier in camp from Harvard undrafted rookie Tyler Ott, who was cut earlier in August.
Aiken’s departure leaves the Patriots without a dedicated long snapper a week before the opener in Miami.
“I think there are a lot of things that are potentially in transition with the number of spots on our team,” head coach Bill Belichick said when asked about the long snapper decision in a conference call the morning after cuts. “I’m not saying they will or won’t change, I’m not sure. We’re looking at different options and we’ll just do the best we can to put it together in the best way we feel like we can and go from there. There are a lot of things that we need to see between now and I’d say next Wednesday. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. I wouldn’t commit to anything one way or the other on your question and frankly on a number of other positions. We’ll just have to see.”
Defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich has been the Patriots’ backup long snapper in recent seasons.
“He would be an option,” Belichick said if the team didn’t add another player at the spot this week.
One undrafted rookie makes team
Cornerback Malcolm Butler was the only undrafted rookie to make the Patriots’ roster to close out training camp. The defensive back impressed early on in the summer and saw significant action with the top defense during preseason games.
“West Alabama, there were a couple players that we looked at down there (and) ending up not signing after the draft,” Belichick said describing his Division II rookie. “We brought him up for our rookie minicamp and he showed us some things there and he’s continued to work hard and improve through camp. Big jump, lot to learn and he’s worked hard at it. He’s gotten a lot of snaps in the preseason. I think those plays have helped him and he’s a young player that’s continued to improve through camp.”
Notre Dame LB finds home
Linebacker Darius Fleming missed his first two NFL seasons thanks to torn ACLs. Now, the former Notre Dame defender is atop the Patriots’ list of backup linebackers. With Fleming able to stay healthy for the first time in his short career, head coach Bill Belichick seems intrigued by the youngster and what he might bring to the depth of the team.
“Darius had an unfortunate start to his career in San Francisco; good player at Notre Dame. Good outside linebacker, defensive end, edge setter, pass rusher and went out to San Francisco hurt his knee and came back the next year after the repair and that gave out,” Belichick said. “So he had the same procedure on the same knee twice and when they released him we felt fortunate to get him. He’s been able to manage well through camp; got a lot of reps. He’s played well for us, both outside and at times inside and in some occasions as a rusher. So, he’s got some versatility, smart kid, works hard, tough kid. He came from a good program at Notre Dame. He fit into the team and contributed in a number of areas on defense and in the kicking game.”