BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Rob Gronkowski practiced in pads on a limited basis Wednesday, but the New England Patriots' star tight end was not present with his teammates for the Super Bowl media sessions later in the day as he remained in the NFL's concussion protocol.
The Patriots are still talking as if Gronk's status is uncertain, but he told ESPN reporter Josina Anderson on Tuesday night that he expects to play against the Eagles on Sunday.
Gronkowski spoke with Anderson at an event not covered by the concussion protocol. The Amherst native said Tuesday that he should be cleared soon.
"Hopefully by tomorrow," he said. "We'll see how it goes and what the doctors say. I'm not the guy to say I'm out of the protocol. That is the doctor's call. I'm feeling good."
Evidently, speaking with large groups of reporters is seen as too intellectually taxing at this point in the process. A cynic might wonder if it's more than doctors at work here. Football coaches are notorious for keeping opponents in the dark about the status of injured players as long as possible to gain every possible strategic edge.
Philly's defensive coaches would certainly prepare differently if they knew the game's most prolific pass-catching tight end wouldn't play. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Wednesday that the Pats were prepared for every eventuality.
"We'll be ready, and if Rob clears, he'll be ready to go," McDaniels said. "I know he's itching to be back. I know he's been doing what the protocol tells him to do, and the doctors and what the medical people tell him to do.
"Hopefully, we'll get the go-ahead before Sunday."
Pats backup tight end Dwayne Allen, who had only 10 catches during the regular season, said the passing game would be different without Gronkowski. Allen said there are plays the Pats run for Gronk that they wouldn't run for anyone else.
"Rob's a special player," McDaniels said, "and I don't think anybody would really fill his shoes by themselves in his role. That's the type of player he is and the type of impact he has on our offense and on the game. It's hard to duplicate that.
"There's certainly roles within our offense, things people will be ready to do. But there's things we won't ask somebody to do that we'd ask Rob to do."
Somehow, after seeing Gronkowski's face when he told Anderson he expected to play, I have a hard time believing he won't be his old self on Sunday.