Talk of Fame Network
Most conversations about today's tight ends begin with New England's Rob Gronkowski, and for good reason: He is one of the best … if not THE best … at his position.
He can block. He can catch. He is tough to cover. He is tougher to tackle. He can score from anywhere on the field. And his per-catch average of 21.6 yards this season is more like a wide receiver who can fly than a tight end who runs over and through defenders.
So we wanted to find out if there was anyone the Patriots' star modeled himself after – you know, someone he emulated as a developing player – and, as he explained on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, there was.
In fact, there were three of them.
"Growing up," he said, "I was a big Jeremy Shockey fan. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. I loved watching those players play. I never really had one guy. I always wanted to be my own self; my own type of player. And I never had one guy where I'd be like: 'Oh, I want to be like that guy. Everything to the exact same tee.'
"No, I like those three players big-time growing up. Loved watching them. And loved learning from them watching their game. I also like watching other tight ends, too. Because every tight end … eveyone's different. Everyone has something different. And you can learn stuff off of them."
Outside of Gronk, there are more than a handful of tight ends in today's game who are accomplished pass catchers. Gates is one of them. In fact, he caught his 82nd career touchdown Sunday from Philip Rivers. Another is the Cowboys' Jason Witten. Then there's Seattle's Jimmy Graham, who was in Foxboro Sunday night. And Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker and Gronk's own teammate, Martellus Bennett.
"As of right now," said Gronkowski, "I'm watching film of Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates.I love Gates. And just seeing what they do to get open. And take what they do to get open and try to play it into your game too to get better. So I love studying up on other tight ends and getting better on that."
And studying the position, the opponents and the game, it turns out, is something that Gronkowski does daily. As he pointed out, the mental side of football is a much more significant part of the NFL than he first expected.
"It's just as big as the physical part of football," he said. "Just knowing where to go, where to sit in the zone and how to get open off of man-to-man coverage ... when to stop, when Tom (Brady) is going to throw you the ball. It's definitely a huge part of the game, and it starts in meetings and practices."
(Rob Gronkowski photos courtesy of the New England Patriots)