New England tight end Rob Gronkowski figures to be a tough matchup challenge… (Stephen Savoia / Associated…)
Reporting from Indianapolis — His nickname — "Gronk" — makes him sound like a Dr. Seuss character. But the New York Giants use other words to describe Rob Gronkowski, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end for the New England Patriots, a guy who vacuums any pass thrown in his general vicinity.
Giants safety Kenny Phillips calls him "definitely a new kind of monster."
Giants tight end Jake Ballard marvels that Gronkowski "is a mismatch everywhere on the field."
And Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell — drawing up strategies this week for Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots — sees Gronkowski as another major weapon for quarterback Tom Brady in a pass-catching arsenal that also includes tight end Aaron Hernandez and receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch.
Lots of leaks, only so many fingers to plug them.
"If you take Gronkowski away, then Hernandez is available," Fewell said. "Well, if you try to take both of those guys away, then Welker is available. Then Branch is available. They have so many different weapons, and you can't take all of them away plus rush Tom. That monster they have as far as the offense and the talent that they have, they use that as well as anybody in the league."
One of the story lines in this week leading up to the game is the health of Gronkowski's left ankle, injured in the third quarter of a 23-20 victory over Baltimore in the AFC championship game. He showed up at media day Tuesday without the walking boot he had been wearing, but with the slightest hint of a limp.
Typical of a well-schooled Patriots player, Gronkowski, a second-round pick from Arizona in 2010, guarded any real information about his injury the way he shields the football from defenders. There was no prying loose any meaningful tidbits from him.
On Wednesday, Gronkowski said: "I feel better every day. That's the goal. That's the positive direction you want to be going. You want to be moving forward every single day. If you are going backward, that's not good at all."
No one expects Gronkowski to miss the biggest game of his life, just as Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney had almost continuous treatment on his injured ankle two years ago and played in the Super Bowl.
"Our whole mind-set is that he's going to be 100% by game time, especially given a game of this magnitude," Giants linebacker Michael Boley said of Gronkowski. "I can't expect anything but his best."
Gronkowski's best this season was staggering. He had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns — an NFL scoring record for tight ends — with 21 of those grabs for 20 yards or longer. He was a big reason why the Patriots were able to attack the middle of the field more effectively than anyone this season, and he reeled in three touchdowns in a 45-10 win over Denver in the divisional round.
"I guess he says it best," teammate Rob Ninkovich said. "I think he refers to himself as a beast all the time. 'I'm a beast.' So I think that when he gets on the field, he obviously puts himself in a different mind-set and does his beasting the best on the field. Everybody says that they're different on the field and you can see that with a lot of guys."
Like Jimmy Graham in New Orleans, and Vernon Davis in San Francisco — other standouts in the latest wave of pass-catching tight ends — Gronkowski has the size, strength and speed to create mismatch nightmares.
"Who do you really put on them?" said Hernandez, five inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Gronkowski, yet still big. "They're a little too fast for a linebacker, or when you put a cornerback on them [the cornerbacks are] a little too small. So you've got to have that one person who's like a tight end on defense, like a safety but more athletic than a safety. And more physical than a corner. So it's tough to guard a tight end."
Maybe the Giants' Tom Coughlin had the best solution when asked how his team would deal with Gronkowski, a solution seemingly torn from the pages of Dr. Seuss.
So, Coach, how will your team contain Gronk?
"Get a ladder, probably."