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Gronk loves to block, but wouldn’t mind a catch or two in the Super Bowl

Vital in max protection, the future Hall of Famer has only two playoff receptions.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) warms up before a recent practice at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) warms up before a recent practice at AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 1

In a virtual setting, he copped to some harmless virtual fraud.

Like his peers, Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski was required to film his isolated summer workouts and send them to strength and conditioning coach Anthony Piroli to receive credit. But when that directive became annoying, Gronkowski circumvented things with some willful, wardrobe subterfuge.

He began taking several shirts a day to his workout, filming himself doing multiple sprints in multiple shirts.

“So then when the next time came, I didn’t have to film myself because I already filmed myself running in a different shirt every time on that one day,” Gronkowski said Monday during a Zoom session with reporters. “(Piroli) hasn’t had a clue to this day that I was tricking him about half the time during those virtual workouts.”

Such is the irreverence, levity and impish charm the world has come to expect from this one-syllable celebrity. Yet the pranks, sound bites and viral social media snippets belie the blue-collar, inconspicuous toil performed by this Canton-bound tight end as a glorified blocker in January.

During the Bucs’ improbable playoff run, Gronk has been a grunt. And he mostly loves it.

“I love blocking,” said Gronkowski, who has evolved from pass catcher (two receptions in three games) to protector during this January surge. “It was kinda like a thing in high school, actually. Whenever you had a big block or you pancaked someone or you absolutely leveled someone, it was a thing. Like, everyone would rewind it, we’d all be watching it, we’d all be cheering like, ‘Oh man, did you see that hit?’ or ‘Did you see that pancake,’ or ‘Did you see that block?’

“We always thought that was cooler than like, scoring a touchdown.”

For all the influence wielded in the Bucs locker room by another New England transplant this season, the general consensus is, Gronkowski has rendered an equally profound impact by his selflessness.

Even running backs coach Todd McNair indicated resurgent veteran Leonard Fournette — bummed by his reduced role during most of the regular season — may have been influenced by observing Gronkowski sacrifice receptions for a less-glamorous role.

“There’s no prima donna in Gronk at all,” McNair said. “He’s like, ‘What do you want me to do, Coach?’ If you want him to block, he’ll block.”

The seven targets Gronkowski has gotten in three playoff games are his fewest — by far — in a postseason since 2012. In his final four playoff appearances with the Patriots, he averaged 25 targets a postseason, totaling 60 receptions for 840 yards and nine touchdowns.

But with a deep ensemble of pass catchers, the Bucs needed him more in max protection against three teams (Washington, New Orleans, Green Bay) that ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in sacks.

Tom Brady was sacked only once in each of the last two games. Moreover, the Bucs have averaged 115 rushing yards in three playoff contests.

“He’s a pro, he wants to win,” Bucs tight ends coach Rick Christophel said. “He does everything he’s supposed to do. He’s the greatest teammate. I mean, he’s just as excited when somebody makes a catch for a touchdown or a run for a touchdown as he is when he does it. And I think that’s what makes him so much fun to be around.”

Not that he can’t get annoyed. The guy of multiple shirts wouldn’t mind wearing many hats in the Super Bowl.

“I don’t love to block every play,” said Gronkowski, who had 45 catches (for 623 yards) and seven touchdowns in the regular season.

“I like to go out for passes too, I like to split it up. That’s why I feel like the tight end position is just a great position for myself. But just overall, blocking’s part of the game too. Blocking keeps you around.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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