TAMPA — Each week, the Bucs produce a new episode of Tommy & Gronky, where their new quarterback and tight end take the friendship test and tell dad jokes sitting in beach chairs with palm trees swaying behind them.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been teammates and close buddies for a decade, so it’s hard to stump them with a question.
Here’s a puzzler, however, that neither would have a good answer to if it appeared on an episode: Why has Gronk only been targeted four times this season, with two catches for 11 yards?
“I mean, I’m a blocking tight end. I came here to block, baby!” Gronkowski said during his media availability Friday. “So four targets is four more than I thought I was going to get.”
Gronkowski has caught 78 career touchdown passes from Brady, who lobbied hard for the Bucs to trade a fourth-round pick to New England in exchange for his rights and a seventh-rounder.
It was assumed that Brady and Gronk would be hooking up the way they did for nine seasons in New England. But earlier this week, Bucs coach Bruce Arians said of the 31-year-old tight end, "We haven’t had that many red-zone opportunities, and I don’t see him running 40 yards past people any more … We brought him in to play tight end.”
Several times Friday, Gronkowski was asked about Arians' assessment.
“You know, I’m a blocking tight end,” Gronkowski said. “That’s all I got.”
Gronkowski, however, said he hasn’t forgotten how to catch the football.
“I didn’t forget,” Gronkowski said. "But every game plan can change differently week in, week out. And there’s sometimes in my career I would be targeted 15 times and there’s other times I’d be targeted just a few. It all depends on how the defenses are playing us. How the defenses are lining up against us. Who they’re taking away.
“It’s just two weeks into the season, so I’ve just got to go out there and keep on fighting, you know? Just give it my all in whatever aspect of the game it is.”
On Friday, Arians doubled down that Gronkowski’s speed may not be what it once was.
“It never was his forte," Arians said. ”If you’re going to go up there and bump-and-run him, that’s a different story. But to just think he’s going to run past a corner who runs 4.4, he’s never done that, anyway. It’s not like it’s something new. But he can still go down the field and stretch the field. We had good times on him in practices. He can stretch the field. It’s just he’s not going to line up wide and run 40-yard balls."
Gronkowski says, despite taking a year off, his body feels good.
“I feel good. It feels good just to be out there and playing football again,” he said. "Going out there with the guys. We won last week, which was great. To get that feeling of a win again felt good. Going out there and practicing throughout the week and preparing. It feels good just to be out there and just playing the game of football.
“I’ve just got to keep working. There’s always areas I can improve big-time, especially in the pass game. It doesn’t matter if you get a lot of passes called your way. If I’m not ready, then it’s never going to work, so I’ve just got to be ready at all times and just improve my game in the pass game and run game. I can definitely improve.”
Gronkowski admitted, after a year away from the game, it took some time to adjust to the speed again.
“When I first got here, and the first couple of practices, the game was fast,” Gronkowski said. “First game, too, was fast and it’s slowing down a little bit and you’ve got to appreciate that. I mean, that’s what you want. You don’t want the game to be feeling fast to you, you don’t want the players to feel like they’re flying past you. The game has slowed down since training camp, and it feels good just to get a couple games under my belt.”