High-profile absences prompted media buzz when New England started Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Monday. Two of last year’s offensive captains, QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski, were not present. Gronkowski’s whereabouts are unknown, but Brady told the press he would use the off-season to spend more time with his family.
Reporters tracked down returning Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels to seek additional details. McDaniels, who has not left the team facilities in months, glanced around furtively. “I think recent events reinforced how precious family is. I’d do the same if I were in Tom’s shoes but… well, if no one’s figured it out by now.” Josh paused, then sighed. “I’m hoping I’ll be granted a chance to see my family if [rookie QB Danny] Etling does well,” he whispered. Before he could explain Gronkowski’s mysterious absence, Coach Belichick summoned McDaniels over the PA system.
Rumors had indicated Gronkowski may stay away from voluntary practices due to his contract status and health concerns. Reporters assumed the monstrous 6’6” tight end would leave a large hole to fill, but the spectacle on the field Tuesday suggested the team is ready. A behemoth towered behind Coach Belichick when he addressed players at the beginning of practice. Later, the silent colossus backed up his intimidation on the field: Gronkowski is known to break tackles, but the hulking brute nearly broke a neck. After catching a pass with one gauntleted hand, he halted Dont’a Hightower’s charge with the other and lifted the 270-pound linebacker up with a choke-hold. He spiked the ball after coaches intervened.
The NFL quickly raised concerns. The League will fine New England for fielding someone in full armor during a pads-free practice. Furthermore, the Patriots did not have space to add the newcomer. Gronkowski is still on the roster, which is at the 90-player off-season maximum. Commissioner Goodell committed to investigating the team’s roster activities. Given the usual speed of NFL investigations, however, the veritable mountain will probably be around for several seasons.