Pool report from Patriots practice

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The following is the pool report from New England Patriots practice on Wednesday, as filed by Jarrett Bell of USA Today:

The New England Patriots conducted their first practice since arriving in Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX, a two-hour session on Wednesday that coach Bill Belichick saw as significant for getting his team back on a regular schedule following two days without practices.

“This Wednesday is kind of like a regular Wednesday, tomorrow will be kind of like a Thursday, Friday will be like a Friday,” Belichick said. “So we’re trying to get back on schedule.”

A regular Wednesday practice includes a heavy dose of situational reps, and the Patriots did exactly that while using one of the two grass fields at the Arizona Cardinals training facility on a mild, partly cloudy afternoon with temperatures around 75 degrees.

After extensive individual drills, the work included third downs, red zone snaps and various down-and-distance challenges.

“There’s always things to work on, but we’re grinding away,” Belichick said.

The Patriots installed the bulk of their game plan for Sunday’s game last week while practicing at Gillette Stadium.

“There’s a little bit of refining, but it’s also practicing closer to the game,” Belichick said. “Practicing it two weeks ago and practicing it now, four days before the game, it’s more of our normal timeframe.”

As expected, the Patriots were at full strength in practice from an attendance standpoint. Center Bryan Stork, who didn’t practice when drills began last week while nursing a knee injury, practiced without any apparent setback.

Tom Brady acknowledged early on Wednesday that he’s battling a cold, but looked sharp. Belichick isn’t worried about his condition.

Said Belichick, “He took all the snaps.”

Belichick called the field conditions “great,” yet did tweak the environment as music – rap, rock, hip-hop – blared for an extended portion of the team drills. Belichick typically pipes in noise to help with concentration and communication, but ease up now.

“In this game, you know, it’s kind of a neutral field, so you’ve got to be ready for it,” Belichick said.

The NBC broadcast crew -- including play-by-play man Al Michaels, analyst Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya – attended the practice.
PHOENIX -- Super Bowl XLIX will conclude the NFL's second year with Dean Blandino as its vice president of officiating, a tenure that sparked an excellent ESPN.com profile by ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill. For our purposes, let's take this opportunity to chronicle the league's on-field transition to a younger generation of officiating leadership.

Because everyone loves a list, here are five ways Blandino has either impacted the NFL's on-field product or facilitated a change:

1. Instant replay

Replay is Blandino's area of expertise; he was an instant replay official from 1999-2003 and the NFL's top replay manager from 2004-09. For three years, he operated an independent company that trained and evaluated replay officials. So it's no surprise to see his most significant impact in this area.

Last offseason, Blandino successfully lobbied the competition committee to create a replay headquarters within the league's New York office to consult in real time with referees during every challenge in games. The move provided another set of eyes to the ultimate decision, but without question allowed Blandino to impose a new standard for overturning calls as well.

As the chart shows, reversals on coaches' challenges dropped sharply from 2013. Blandino freely acknowledged the higher bar now in place.

"The call on the field is correct unless we have indisputable visual evidence to the contrary, and then we can overturn it, and we are really trying to stick to that standard," he said during the season. "You will see that reversals are down this year because we are not going to try to reofficiate the play in the booth. We have a ruling on the field. If it's not clear and obvious that that ruling on the field is incorrect, the call will not be overturned, and that's the standard that we're trying to stick to."

A secondary impact here was efficiency. Often, Blandino and his staff could begin analyzing a play before the game referee reached the sideline replay machine. The arrangement will receive at least some credit for the NFL's nearly two-minute reduction in average game time this season.

2. Technology

For more than a decade, the NFL's old guard executives have trusted Blandino with the conception and implementation of technology in officiating. As replay manager, he orchestrated a shift to HD monitors in 2007. This season, he outfitted officials with wireless microphones to facilitate better communication on the field amid the chaos -- and noise -- of live action.

Meanwhile, during the Pro Bowl last Sunday, officials experimented with sideline tablets to view replays.

3. Personnel overhaul

Blandino was promoted in February 2013, and it's worth noting what happened after a year of observation. During the 2014 offseason, the NFL replaced 13 officials -- including three new referees, one of whom (Brad Allen) was hired straight from the college ranks. It was the league's largest personnel turnover among officials in more than a decade, according to the website FootballZebras.com.

The Super Bowl XLIX referee is Bill Vinovich, who been with the NFL in various capacities since 2001 but has never worked a Super Bowl.

4. Executing requests

The competition committee has authority over rule changes and points of emphasis. It's Blandino's job to implement its direction and to authorize any changes of fundamentals that could impact the way calls are made.

The chart, compiled courtesy of Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, compares the total number of key penalty categories during Blandino's tenure to the two full seasons prior to his promotion. (We omitted 2012 because replacement officials worked the first three weeks of games during a labor lockout.)

Predictably, you'll see that penalties on pass defenders have risen significantly. Blandino has overseen a continuation of the NFL's broader vision to facilitate big passing numbers, as most players and coaches see it.

"It's a fantasy football league," Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said this week. "It's all about offense. You see the quarterbacks being paid more, the receivers being paid more. The fans love fantasy football. They love seeing guys catch touchdowns. Nobody wants to see a game that's 14-0 or 6-7. They want to see a game that is 41-38 and say, 'Damn, that was a shootout,' instead of the way they used to play it. That's just how it is now. Fantasy football rules the world."

It's also worth noting that some pre-snap penalties and intentional grounding calls have fallen. There are several explanations for that drop, including better execution by teams, but it's also an area that can be impacted by subtle changes in technique or fundamentals.

5. Telegenics and transparency

At least some of the criticism of NFL officiating comes, frankly, from people who don't fully know or understand the rules. The league's rulebook is the most complex and least intuitive among American professional sports, and Blandino has taken to traditional and social media to explain calls and provide transparency where possible.

Like predecessor Mike Pereira, Blandino is telegenic and once acknowledged a career ambition to work in television. In addition to regular appearances on the NFL Network and numerous national radio shows this season, Blandino also began tweeting (@DeanBlandino) about particularly notable calls in real time.

Todd Grantham's decision a bad sign for Raiders

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There are a lot worse things than being turned down by a college coach, but from the outside Todd Grantham’s decision to stay in Louisville isn’t encouraging sign for Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio.

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTodd Grantham will not be leaving Louisville to become the Raiders' defensive coordinator.
According to ESPN.com’s Brett Murphy, Grantham turned down a two-year offer from the Raiders to stay at his same position in the college ranks.

Del Rio has previously said he would be more hands-on with a coordinator who didn’t have much experience.

Grantham is a veteran college defensive coordinator who held the same job with the Cleveland Browns from 2005-07, so that shouldn’t have been an issue. But it’s conceivable Grantham might have thought Del Rio would want more input on the defense than he was comfortable with. Also, Oakland has already begun assembling defensive assistants, meaning Grantham wouldn't be bringing in his own staff.

It’s probably no coincidence that Grantham coaches under Bobby Petrino at Louisville -- the same guy who turned down an offer from Al Davis to be the Raiders coach in 2006. Grantham interviewed with Del Rio earlier this week and the team quickly put together an offer to try to lure him to the NFL but were shot down on Wednesday.

And so the search for Oakland’s defensive coordinator continues while the list of available candidates continues to shrink.

Del Rio has received mostly high marks for the staff he’s put together, and this probably won’t derail much of the positive momentum the team has generated since the regular season ended. But there was a red flag somewhere that scared Grantham away and that has to be a concern for anyone else who might interview for the gig.
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- When the New England Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLIX, one of the most meaningful conversations that special teams captain Matthew Slater had was with his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. The father-son bond has remained strong and football is a big part of it.

In many ways, Slater would like to win a Super Bowl because he knows what it would mean to his father.

"I know my dad, when he looks back on his career, one of his biggest regrets is not winning the big game," Slater said Wednesday. "He played for 20 years and played in just one Super Bowl and then lost. For me to be here, it feels like he’s here again. It means a lot to our family."

Jackie Slater, a dominating offensive tackle, was part of the Los Angeles Rams team that lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19, in Super Bowl XIV. The Rams had led 19-17 going into the fourth quarter.

“I’ve watched that tape with my dad a dozen times before I was the age of 10 and we’ve talked about them leading in the fourth quarter with 11 minutes to go," Matthew said. " We’ve talked about what went on in that game. He doesn’t need to tell me because I can see it and hear it when he talks about it."

Now in his seventh season with the Patriots, Slater is a perennial Pro Bowler who often is given the responsibility of "breaking the team down" in the locker room after victories. That was a role held by Tedy Bruschi for many years and is only given to the team's most highly-respected players.

Slater, much like his father, is uniquely qualified.

"This game of football had been great to the Slater family. We’re so blessed to be a part of this special game," he said. "It's excited for both of us that I'm here now."
PHOENIX -- In a Super Bowl with two coaches in Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll who know the benefits of a second chance, the latter stood up for former Denver Broncos coach John Fox.

Carroll dropped Fox's name while answering a question about finding a way to secure another chance in the NFL after being fired as a head coach. Carroll was fired by the New England Patriots after three seasons and by the New York Jets after one before finding success with the Seattle Seahawks. Fox is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaPete Carroll, a beneficiary of second chances, empathizes with former Broncos coach John Fox.
"So often guys get kicked out," Carroll said Wednesday morning. "I got kicked out after one year at the Jets. I didn't even get started figuring that thing out, I was a mess. But those experiences are extraordinarily valuable and I can see why owners look to a guy who has had experiences.

"To hire a guy like John Fox, how could you not want to hire John Fox? He's done everything. He's been through it all and he's a great coach and a communicator. I understand why guys get a second chance in that regard. It's based on the accumulated experiences that give you more wisdom, more understanding, and also an opportunity to see a guy. You've seen them in situations and you know more so what you're getting. I think that happens, too."

The Broncos and Fox parted ways Jan. 12, the day after Denver's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Fox led the Broncos to four consecutive AFC West titles and three consecutive 12-win seasons, including 2014. In announcing the move, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said the two disagreed on how to take the Broncos "to the next level."

In replacing Fox, Elway gave his long-time friend and former teammate Gary Kubiak a second chance as a head coach as well. Kubiak was fired by the Houston Texans 13 games into the 2013 season and spent this past season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator.

"I learned a lot," said Kubiak, who was 61-64 in regular-season games with the Texans. "I think you always learn from what happens. You learn what you should do and maybe what you shouldn't do,"

Carroll echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"It's just experiences," Carroll said. "This is a really difficult job the first time. There are so many things that happen in this position that you just can't predict and you just don't know and you don't see it coming in your preparation. You just have to deal with it as it hits you. Everybody is going to falter and make mistakes and say, 'I wish I would have known then what I know now.' That's going to happen. What unfortunately doesn't always happen is guys get enough time to work through those early years so that you can find your way and you can find your voice and you can find your perspective."

Former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who was fired 12 games into his second season in Denver and is now the Patriots' offensive coordinator, is hoping for a second chance as a head coach. Like Carroll, McDaniels said this week that the first time through can be a bumpy ride.

"I think I'm a better listener than I was then. I was young, made a lot of mistakes, learned from them -- hopefully -- try to be a better person, a better coach," McDaniels said. "I learned every day from it ... sometimes when you step away from it, you can look at it with a better eye, see what you did and why and make sure that it was the best way."
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots starting center Bryan Stork, who injured his right knee in the AFC divisional round playoff victory over the Ravens and missed the AFC Championship Game, remains a limited participant in practice leading up to Super Bowl XLIX.

Stork said this week, "I'm working with the trainers every day, working hard, doing my best and getting better."

Stork started 12 games for the Patriots this season (11 in the regular season, one in the playoffs) as his inclusion into the lineup helped solidify some early struggles for the offensive line. In his absence in the AFC title game, the Patriots shifted veteran Ryan Wendell from right guard to center, and inserted second-year player Josh Kline at right guard.

In addition to Stork, linebacker Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), defensive tackle Chris Jones (left elbow) and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (foot) were the only other players limited.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) was listed as a full participant.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It might be more than a week before we know coach Mike McCarthy's plan to fix the Green Bay Packers' dreadful special-teams unit.

McCarthy would not offer specifics on Wednesday, when he held his season wrap-up news conference, other than to say everything will be scrutinized before any decisions are made.

All the assistant coaches, including embattled special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, were given this week off.

"It's important to evaluate," said McCarthy, whose offseason work was delayed by the unexpected death of his younger brother last week. "I obviously haven't had that opportunity. So we'll look at everything. We'll look at every job description, every job responsibility, performance – mine included – and we'll look to make changes."

McCarthy said it usually takes him a week to conduct his end-of-season meetings and evaluations with his coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeJon Ryan
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJon Ryan's fake-punt touchdown pass in the NFC Championship Game was another special-teams breakdown for the Packers.
There's reason to think McCarthy could keep Slocum, but possibly in another capacity or with other changes to help his special teams, which was ranked last in the Dallas Morning News' annual rankings.

McCarthy and Slocum have a long history, having first worked together at the University of Pittsburgh in 1990, and McCarthy has fired only one coordinator in his nine seasons as head coach and none since he parted ways with Bob Sanders, who ran the defense from 2006-08.

Last offseason, the Packers fired special-teams assistant Chad Morton and hired veteran coach Ron Zook to help Slocum. They also assigned another member of the staff, Jason Simmons, to assist with special teams.

A poor season on special teams, which included having seven kicks blocked in the regular season, became worse in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Two plays – the Seahawks' fake field goal in the third quarter and their onside kick in the fourth quarter – turned out to be major turning points.

McCarthy discussed the fake field goal at length on Wednesday but was not asked about the onside kick, which went off the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to block on the play, and was recovered by the Seahawks with 2:07 left in regulation.

At the Super Bowl this week, Seattle punter Jon Ryan, who played for the Packers from 2006-07, said the key to pulling off the fake field goal was to dupe linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk. Jones sold out hard for the block, and Hawk was left to decide whether to play Ryan as a ball career or drop into coverage against eligible lineman Garry Gilliam, who caught the 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with 4:44 left in the third quarter for Seattle's first points of the game.

It appeared to be a case of Seahawks special teams coordinator Brian Schneider outdueling Slocum.

"Fakes are risky," McCarthy said. "And Jon Ryan can run; we know that. I think from the responsibility standpoint, pursuit and so forth, I think it would've been a foot race for the first down. We did not execute our particular responsibilities as best we can, and they had a better play call than what we had called.

"Special teams has been no different than offense and defense," McCarthy added. "It comes down to healthy scheme, knowing your opponent. You're looking for the personnel matchups and ultimately executing the fundamentals. Our special-team errors have been critical more because of the timing of it. It definitely showed up in the Seattle game."

McCarthy said Wednesday that continuity on his coaching staff is important but added that "there's devils involved with that, too. You have to fight to complacency."

"We'll look to adjust or change and whatever we need to if we think it’s going to help us be better," McCarthy said.

That process starts now.
PHOENIX -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has an email buddy you might not expect. It's New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. It started through a mutual friend.

"I'm not sure if I should give that information out," Wilson said Wednesday. "It's [Wheels Up Co-Founder and CEO)]Kenny Dichter. I'm real good friends with him. He's a University of Wisconsin grad who I know really well, so that's how I know Tom. We've shared emails back and forth."

They haven't emailed each other in the last two weeks, of course, but Wilson said he and Brady recently sent a similar email to Dichter.

"It was right before the playoffs started," Wilson said. "I told Kenny, ‘Hey, we're probably going to play Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Get ready for it.' And Tom, the day before or the same day, said the same thing. It's just funny how that worked out."
By season’s end it became clear to the offensive coaches: They needed someone devoted only to the quarterbacks. They got that person Wednesday. Washington hired Matt Cavanaugh as quarterbacks coach.

Last season, offensive coordinator Sean McVay had that title in addition to his other duties. And head coach Jay Gruden once played the position and worked closely with the quarterbacks while a coordinator in Cincinnati. Both, however, found that because of the demands of their new jobs, having one person dedicated to the job would be beneficial.

Cavanaugh spent the last two seasons as the quarterbacks coach in Chicago, but the Bears’ staff was fired after the season. The Chicago quarterbacks had a strong season in 2013, as Jay Cutler and Josh McCown combined for single-season team records in passing yards (4,450), touchdown passes (32) and passer rating (96.9).

Last season, however, Chicago’s quarterbacks (mostly Cutler) finished with an 87.3 rating, 30 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

Cavanaugh also was the New York Jets’ quarterbacks coach from 2009-12. He was Baltimore’s offensive coordinator from 1999-2004, winning a Super Bowl after the 2000 season. He also won Super Bowl rings as a backup quarterback with the 1990 New York Giants and 1984 San Francisco 49ers.

The former second-round pick started 19 career games and appeared in 112. He threw for 4,332 yards and 28 touchdowns while playing for five teams.
PHOENIX – Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson just turned 26 years old in November and will play in his second Super Bowl on Sunday with a chance to win his second.

In Sunday’s game, Wilson's counterpart is a player who has already walked that path in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Brady was 26 when he played in and won his second Super Bowl (Super Bowl XXXVIII), then won his third when he was 27 (Super Bowl XXXIX).

On Sunday, Brady, now 37, will start in his sixth Super Bowl, breaking an NFL record for players at any position.

On Wednesday, Wilson was asked if he can see himself in Brady’s shoes someday, a player in his 15th season still playing in Super Bowls.

“I definitely can,” Wilson said. “For me, I visualize success every day. I never visualize failure and I visualize being at the top every time. That’s just my mindset. I never waver from that and I think that’s a credit to my parents and, really, how they raised me. They used to teach me the discipline of getting up early in the morning, the discipline of doing things the right way, the discipline of loving the people that you have around you … It’s about surrendering to a bigger cause and focusing on what you really want to focus on, but also surrounding yourself around great people.”

Brady won in his first three title game appearances, including back-to-back victories to close out the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

The Patriots have lost their last two Super Bowl trips – Super Bowl XLII to close the 2007 season and Super Bowl XLVI to close the 2011 season. Brady was asked Wednesday to reflect on his first trip to the title game in his second season in the league, his first as a starter.

“That happened so fast in my life,” Brady said. “I didn’t quite understand what was going on in that time. I was just a young guy and then there was only one week from the time we won the AFC Championship Game to the Super Bowl. You’ve got to appreciate the opportunity we have and whatever we’ve got to this point. It’s hard to do. You know, all the guys, Coach [Bill Belichick] does a great job of preparing the whole team and getting those guys focused, whether it’s young guys or veteran guys, to try and just brace for what happens and accept the challenge, and then go out there and try to meet the challenge.”
PHOENIX – Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, an honors graduate of Stanford and soon to be a dad for the first time, said he is a better man today because of growing up in the sometimes dangerous Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton.

“Growing up in Compton, you just deal with different things than I guess a regular neighborhood would deal with,” Sherman said. “You deal with a lot more adversity, a lot more different pressures, I guess. Adversity, diversity, different people trying to pull you in different directions.’’

Sherman said he didn’t fully understand the difficulties involved while he was living it.

“I didn’t realize every place wasn’t like that until you leave,” Sherman said. “Until you leave and you visit other neighborhoods and you realize they don’t have drug dealers around and crack addicts walking down the street. They don’t have violence on a daily basis, police helicopters and things roaming around.

“Once you learn that, you’re kind of grateful for that environment in which you were brought up, because you know if you can survive there, you can survive anywhere.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The biggest task for Mike McCarthy -- after he decides whether or not to fire special teams coach Shawn Slocum -- might be to figure out how to keep the Green Bay Packers' overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game from ruining his team for the future.

There may no more important task facing him this offseason.

[+] EnlargeMike McCarthy
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini"The only way you benefit from that experience is you have to be able to learn from the victories and defeats," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said at his season-ending news conference.
"The 2015 football team will not bear the burden of what happened in 2014 or before that," McCarthy said Wednesday during his half-hour news conference to wrap up the season. "That's not the way we operate. We won't internalize the things that go on outside our building. We're going to create another opportunity to build the best football team that we can in 2015, and we're going to go for it."

The magnitude of the defeat -- one that quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game is "going to be a missed opportunity that we'll probably think about for the rest of my career" -- has not diminished in the 10 days since the 28-22 overtime loss occurred.

The details of the collapse -- from the fake field goal the Seahawks ran for a touchdown to safety Morgan Burnett's decision (at Julius Peppers' behest) to go down rather than return his fourth-quarter interception to a pair of three-and-out possessions with a 12-point lead in the final six minutes to the botched onside kick recovery and so on -- have been rehashed ad nauseam.

That's not likely to change between now and when training camp opens next season.

"It will be a positive," McCarthy said. "Every game you compete in is a unique experience, and the only way you benefit from that experience is you have to be able to learn from the victories and defeats. That's the mind-set of an alpha; that's the mindset of a champion. That will never change."
After two lackluster seasons for the Buffalo Bills, it is clear that former first-round pick EJ Manuel must have competition at quarterback. Based on what I saw at the Senior Bowl, the Bills will have trouble finding that player if they look for him in this year's NFL draft.

Quarterback is one of this draft's thinnest positions, with a significant drop-off after underclassmen Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are selected in the top 5.

The Bills don't have a first-round pick. They have a variety of needs to consider in the second round, so they could be looking at third-round quarterback prospects, at best. That's the territory of Bryce Petty, Sean Mannion and Garrett Grayson. I watched all three have an inconsistent week at the Senior Bowl; it's unlikely any of them are ready to immediately lead a team.

Buffalo's best option will be to explore the free-agent market. There are interesting veterans capable of pushing Manuel, including Matt Moore, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, who has strong ties to new Bills head coach Rex Ryan. (Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and free agent Blaine Gabbert also knows new offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system well, but I think that's asking for trouble.)

The easiest solution for Buffalo is for Manuel to turn the corner in his third season. But the Bills, who have playoff aspirations, cannot go into the season expecting it. Quarterback insurance is a must-have for Buffalo this year.
PHOENIX – In case you don’t know the story of how the Seattle Seahawks secondary became known at the Legion of Boom, strong safety Kam Chancellor explained it Wednesday.

“It was a radio interview,” Chancellor said. “The fans wanted to come up with a name for the group and we saw a bunch of names come across Twitter. None of them were catchy, but when we saw Legion of Boom, it jumped out.”

Chancellor said he and other defensive backs -- Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Brandon Browner (now with the Patriots) -- liked that term.

“Legion is like a vast army,’’ Chancellor said. “We just went with Legion of Boom and it kind of fits the description of our unit, our brotherhood of love, trust, honesty, respect. I think all those elements right there create the power in our group. It creates the talent and brings out the talent. It brings out everything in our group.”
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski provided possibly one of the greatest answers in Super Bowl history Wednesday.

Asked why it is such a big deal when he parties, Gronkowski delivered this response: "Because I'm a baller. Is that a good answer?"

Leave it to Gronkowski to keep it light, which he's done the last two days -- first at Super Bowl media day Tuesday and then Wednesday morning during a 45-minute availability at the team hotel.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to teammates. One of Gronkowski's closest friends on the team, running back Shane Vereen, had some fun needling him this week.

“He's become a sex symbol with some kittens," Vereen cracked. "It's crazy. Whoever thought that some furry little cats would've created a sex symbol? Go figure.”

But Vereen became serious when the topic turned to what it's like to be around Gronkowski on a daily basis.

"The best thing that I've told a lot of people about Gronk is that he's the same person every day," he said. " It's hard to find Gronk on a bad day. He's literally just a person that you want to be around just because his attitude is always positive. He's always got something to say. He's always got something on his mind.”