Rob Gronkowski's rare skill-set has changed the way we think about tight ends. But Rob is not the only Gronk with tight end experience. His older brother Dan played tight end in the NFL for three seasons. STACK caught up with Dan to learn the tactics that helped him and Rob become elite tight ends.
1. Take Mental Reps
Tight ends are the Swiss Army Knife of an offense. They pass block, run block, run routes and catch the football. A tight end essentially combines the responsibilities of a wide receiver, offensive lineman and fullback. When you're asked to do so much, there's a lot you need to know.
"As a tight end, you need to know all of the offensive linemen's responsibilities as well as all the receiver's responsibilities. You need to pay very specific attention to detail so you know every single little bit of that playbook. If you miss one small thing, you can screw up all the linemen or even the receiver routes," Gronkowski says.
The Gronks are big proponents of taking "mental reps" at practice. Whenever you're on the sideline, find a coach who can tell you what the offensive play call is. Then envision yourself lining up for that play and think about your assignment and the technique you'd use to get it done. Mental reps are the best practice you can get short of actually being in there, and they can help you master your playbook much faster.
2. Find Your Best Body Type
Not all tight ends are created equal. Some are slim and quick, built to slice up the defense in the passing game. Others are beefy, serving mostly as a punishing blocker on the line of scrimmage. Some are a little bit of both. Finding the body type that works best for you and the system you play in can help you maximize your contributions. Talk to your coach to get a better idea of what your role will be. If you're expected to stretch the field and frequently catch passes, putting on so much mass that you lose your speed isn't a great idea. If you're expected to do both, find a sweet spot in between.
3. Get a Double Dose of Film Study
Offensive linemen study film looking for the best way to block defenders. Wide receivers watch it looking for the best way to get open and catch passes. Tight ends need to do both. Get in the habit of watching film with both the offensive linemen and the wide receivers on your team. This way, you'll be able to receive instruction from both the offensive line coach and the wide receivers coach (not every team has a dedicated tight ends coach). This will also help you build chemistry with both of these groups.
4. Learn How to Use Your Size as a Weapon
"If you're a tight end, you should always be open. Unless you're triple- or double-covered, you should always be open on a one-on-one—because your body type has an advantage over the opponent in some way or another," Gronkowski says.
Tight ends should have a physical advantage against almost any player tasked with guarding them. Learning how to use your height, weight and length to your advantage is a key part of playing the position. Physical advantage can manifest in a variety of ways—boxing out defensive backs on short routes, reaching to snag passes over linebackers' heads or just getting physical off the line of scrimmage. Practice making contested catches so you can learn the best ways to use your size as an advantage. If you can master that, you'll be a touchdown-scoring terror. "Use your body in the red zone. Box defenders out. If you're going at a DB, you should be bigger than them. If you're going at a linebacker, you should be taller and faster. Use your body to your advantage while running routes," Gronkowski says.
5. Build a Beastly Lower Body
A strong lower body is key for being an effective blocker. It's also the key to improving sprinting speed and agility. Since tight ends are expected to both block and run routes, lower-body strength should be a top priority in their training. "Focus on developing lower-body power. That helps not only for blocking, but for running and making your cuts. Tight ends are big. The size you are, you need strong legs to be explosive. Focus on lifts such as Squats, Hang Cleans and Leg Presses," Gronkowski says.
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