Rob Gronkowski Injury: How Injury to Patriots TE Will Affect Super Bowl Gameplan

Ryan Phillips@@RumorsandRantsContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots is assisted off the field after twisting his ankle while being tackled by Bernard Pollard #31 of the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has proven to be one of the NFL's most explosive players this season. The second-year man out of Arizona finished the regular season with 90 catches for 1,327 yards, which led all NFL tight ends, and 17 touchdowns, which set the NFL record for the position. 

He has continued that great season during the playoffs, as he has 15 catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns in New Engalnd's two postseason wins.

On Sunday, after gaining 87 yards in the Patriots' 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Gronkowski left Gillette Stadium in a walking boot after injuring his left ankle. The second-half injury looked nasty, but sources claim the 22-year-old only suffered a Grade 1 ankle sprain and should be fine for the Super Bowl.

While that's all well and good, just being "fine" doesn't mean he'll be 100 percent. Ankle injuries can last for a while, and can nag for even longer. Expecting someone to be completely healthy after two weeks would be a mistake.

What this could mean for the Patriots is that fellow second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez will get more reps in practice leading up to the Super Bowl. Hernandez and Gronkowski clearly both have a thorough understanding of New England's offense and the only real difference between the two is Gronkowski's ability as a blocker. 

Hernandez is a little quicker, but he's also smaller—other than that they can be fairly interchangeable in the system. The Florida product was also outstanding this season, grabbing 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games. He has added 11 receptions for 121 yards and a score in the postseason. 

Having Gronkowski slowed at all in the Super Bowl would present a major hurdle for the Patriots, luckily they have Hernandez right there to help fill in.