If you’re one of the many Patriots fans playing Monday Morning Coach, and questioning Bill Belichick‘s decision to include Rob Gronkowski and other starting players on special teams, you’re rooting for the wrong head coach.
Belichick, above maybe all other head coaches, values special teams like it’s any other part of the game. Since Gronkowski is one of the best blockers on the team, he was in on field goals and extra points and he’ll continue to be.
Gronkowski is hardly the only starter to play on special teams. Danny Woodhead, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington all play a major role in the Patriots’ kicking and punting game. Julian Edelman is a fringe starter at this point, and he plays an even greater role in the kicking game.
While reserves like Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Niko Koutouvides and Jeff Tarpinian play the biggest roles in the Patriots’ special teams, those reserve players can’t be the only ones if you want to have a successful unit. Obviously, on an NFL squad, your starters are the most talented players on the roster. If those players can star on offense or defense, they’ll likely do the same in the kicking game.
There’s a reason why the Patriots are second in the NFL in yards per punt return. There’s a reason why New England has punted the fewest times in the league (34), yet has the sixth most punts downed inside the twenty yard line (20). It’s because Belichick sees there’s value there, and he uses the best men for the job.
One of the best decisions Belichick made this year was to move McCourty to kick return duties. Sure, he coughed up a return and nearly lost the Jets game for the Patriots, but he also ran a return back for a touchdown in the same game. His returns have been a major improvement over Woodhead, Edelman and Slater’s from last season. New England averaged 21.4 yards per return last season, McCourty is up to 25.7 this year.
There’s also something very team-oriented about having star players relegated to special teams duties. Gronk may be on magazine covers and television commercials, but he’s still out there grinding with the rest of the team blocking on an extra point. Isn’t Boston all about these scrappy, hard-working athletes? Or do they have to be under 5-foot-10?
Obviously, the more a player is out on the field, the more prone to injuries he’ll be, but when was the last time you heard of a player getting injured on an extra point? It doesn’t happen very often. In a worst case scenario, it happened to Gronk and he’ll be out for 4-6 weeks, in plenty of time to help the Patriots in the playoffs. And that includes helping on special teams.