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NEW ORLEANS - One of the biggest question marks
surrounding the Saints vs. Patriots matchup: Will New England's tight end Rob
Gronkowski play after new questions surfaced about his surgically repaired
left forearm? And if Gronkowski does take the field, how effective will
he be returning from injury? New England says Gronkowski is a game-time
decision and officially lists him as questionable.
"I am happy for him if
he's out there. I'll be excited," Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said.
"I know how it feels to want to be out there and help your team. That's
hard on any player and you never wish for a player not to be playing. If he's
out there playing, I'll be very happy for him."
Gronkowski hasn't played for
the Pats since New England was eliminated from the playoffs in January.
He's most recently coming off a back surgery in June, but also battled a
broken, then infected, forearm. Gronkowski will likely need some time to
get back in top football shape, but his instinct and raw talent could still
provide for some costly plays against New Orleans. In 2011, Gronkowski set the
single-season record for touchdowns by a tight end, with 17 receiving
touchdowns and 18 overall. The Saints have prepared all week for him –
just in case.
"You go through the process as
if he is playing," head coach Sean Payton said. "You discuss jersey
numbers and when you are running practice plays you try to prepare for what you
have seen when he played and not be surprised if he is up. Sometimes if it is
an interior lineman, certain positions aren't as noticeable - where you are
trying to match up certain personnel, but with a player like him it is pretty
As Saints linebacker Junior
Gallette notes, the Saints do have as perfect of a cheat sheet as one can get
for studying how to be effective against Gronkowski, after going up against
Graham all season.
"Clearly, Gronk is one of the
better tight ends in the NFL. But you know, the good thing is we face
Jimmy every day: his size, his speed, it's so similar. But really you
can't simulate at practice what you'll face in a game. He's a great
receiver and means a lot to that offense. Basically, we're going to have
to bow up and try to contain him."
Saints rookie safety Kenny
Vaccaro hopes Gronkowski plays. This emerging defensive star wants his shot at
one of the game's premier players.
"He's one of the best tight
ends in the league," Vaccaro said. "That's one of my favorite things
to do – matchup and play against the best. So I hope he plays."
June 8 of last year Gronkowski signed a six-year, $54 million contract
extension, the largest ever for an NFL tight end. Graham may well snag
that accolade however when he negotiates his new deal in the coming months.
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Tuesday, August 19 2014 4:10 PM EDT2014-08-19 20:10:07 GMT
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