Dolphins coach Gase: Gronkowski “still a major force” in Patriots offense

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FOXBORO - Adam Gase might agree with you that Rob Gronkowski's been beaten up. He's been on and off the injury report for most of the season (most recently on) for a reason, the Dolphins coach would tell you.

"Every year he seems to take the brunt of the blows when it comes to anytime he gets the ball thrown to him, nobody wants to tackle him high," Gase said Wednesday. "Everybody goes for his legs. He's getting pulled in every which direction. Just because he's bigger than everybody else, it's hard to tell who's really getting pushed around or not. He's gotta fight a lot of factors."

For the 2018 season, those factors have been his back and ankle, which seem to have made him less of a player than he was late in the 2016 season when he put together dominant performances in Pittsburgh and against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII.

Gronkowski showed signs of looking healthier against the Jets two weeks ago after having almost a month off between games. He drew doubles at times and at others saw the best defender coach Todd Bowles had to offer in Jamal Adams. He caught a touchdown that day and boasted about having a "full stride" on Instagram after the fact.

Against the Vikings, as we detailed in this week's Report Card, he was not nearly as impactful. He had three penalties, didn't seem to be as effective as a run-blocker, and he finished with three catches for 26 yards.

"He's getting double-teamed all the time," Gase insisted. "I'm sure that takes a toll on his body, but he shows up every Sunday and he competes extremely hard. He's a good run-blocker, he's a good pass-protector. He does a great job any time the ball is thrown to him. 

"He's just a hard guy for any defense to defend because it's like a grown man playing with a bunch of kids he's such a big target. He's one of those guys, when you go to face him, you just try to do everything you can to contain him. You know he's going to get his catches, and when he gets into the red zone, you just gotta try to keep him out of there."

Gase and the Dolphins helped hold Gronkowski to four catches on seven targets back in September, and they're now a little healthier in the middle of the field than they were then. Two-time Pro Bowl Reshad Jones is available after missing the game in Foxboro in Week 4. Linebackers Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan are options for Gronkowski in coverage, as is strong safety TJ McDonald.

Whatever Gronkowski may be dealing with physically, Gase said he's still a player who requires extra attention.

"Oh yeah. If you want to look strictly at numbers, you can get caught up into something else," he said. "You watch the tape and you see there might be times when he's open and for whatever reason, the ball goes somewhere else -- some kind of pressure, something didn't work out the right way. But a lot of times you know when either he's supposed to get the ball or sometimes a penalty occurs. 

"He's still a major force in their offense. We have to make sure we do a good job with him however we do it because he's one of those guys when all of a sudden you think he's being quiet and then all of a sudden he has two or three touchdowns and 100-plus yards and it absolutely cuts your heart out on the defensive side."

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