BOSTON (CBS) -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been on the field looking almost like his normal self this summer at training camp. That's the good news.
The bad news? Opponents know his weakness, and they won't hesitate to attack.
The Boston Herald's Karen Guregian spoke with a number of former players about the vulnerability of Gronkowski, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in December last season. The combination of the NFL's emphasis on banning hits to the head and opponents' knowledge of Gronkowski's injured knee will likely lead to a number of low hits on the 6-foot-6 tight end.
The comments from former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who knows a thing or two about delivering painful hits, stood out.
"I'm going to tell you this, and it might sound egregious, but people and teams think like this: 'Heck, if you get a shot at Gronkowski's knee, you better take it. Because that might be the difference of us going to the playoffs, or us winning the division, and us not winning the division and going to playoffs,'" Harrison told Guregian. "We would be blind and ignorant to think teams don't think like that: 'Take this guy out, take this running back out if you get a chance. Now we don't have to deal with him twice a year. We don't have to see Gronkowski in the playoffs.' Because that offense is a completely different offense without him."
Certainly, opposing teams know full well just how different the New England offense is with and without Gronkowski. Last season, in the seven games in which Gronkowski played, Tom Brady's offense was as powerful as any in the NFL. In the other nine games, the offense was middle-of-the-pack, because defenses were able to make much more favorable matchups when they didn't have to worry about No. 87 in the middle of the field.
"The thing that scares me, the mind-set of a player and teams is this: 'We know without Gronkowski, their offense is really good. But with Gronkowski, that offense is great.' So I'm still afraid that somebody is going to take a shot at that knee," Harrison told Guregian. "If you're the Jets and you absolutely hate the Patriots, what's a better scenario than if you're a defensive backs coach? And I'm not saying this is what [the coaches are] telling them, but conversations like this happen. 'Hey, [Gronkowski's] coming across the middle, he's trying to score, he's trying to keep us out of the playoffs, you know where to hit him. The rules say it's fair. You're not doing anything dirty. Take his knee out. See if he can handle it.'"
For his part, Gronkowski didn't give the impression that he's worried about anything, and he said he refuses to change his style of play. Yet for fans watching on TV, there may be a few extra cringes this year every time a defensive back dives low to hit Gronowski.
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