Gronkowski celebrates - Rob, that is

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

And so it begins.

After a fractious off-season and roster overhaul, the Patriots travel to Miami for the inaugural Monday night game of 2011. We figure the Dolphins recollect the repeated poundings the Pats gave them last year and plan to get off to a better start.

Much to discuss going into Week One. For example…

Tommy Can You Hear Me? This preseason has renewed our appreciation for quarterback Tom Brady because New England’s offense seems harder to pick up than a greasy BB. This, we hope, is why Chad Ochocinco has been playing on a different page than the QB. How much can Brady and Ochocinco connect this week? What kind of production can we expect from Deion Branch, who had exactly as many preseason catches (zero) as I did watching from my couch?

The aforementioned receivers look like they’re having trouble getting open, finding about as much separation as Chang and Eng Bunker. With the release of disappointing young receiver Brandon Tate, what will second-year pass-catcher Taylor Price bring to the picnic?

Lots of questions, none of them reassuring.

Another House Key for Another Gronkowski: New England had only Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as tight ends after letting go of Lee Smith and Will Yeatman in a failed attempt to sneak the promising rookies onto the practice squad. Both get plucked by AFC East rivals (Smith to Buffalo, Yeatman to Miami).

Having two tight ends felt like going off-roading without a spare tire: you could do it, but why tempt fate? Knowing this, Coach Bill Belichick brought Rob’s brother Dan Gronkowski into the fold. The Maryland product saw time at end and fullback with Denver last year, meaning he has experience in a Patriots-like offense under former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.

Delicious, Delightful, D-linemen: New England has become a line-dominated defense, as evidenced by the whopping 10 players Coach Bill Belichick kept for the D-line. Here’s hoping leviathan Albert Haynesworth can disrupt opponents before exhausting himself, Andre Carter can hassle the QB like he did in August, former Jet Shaun Ellis can rediscover the form that made him such a nuisance last year, and that someone under 30 can make an impact.

Formation Follows Function: With all the above-mentioned defensive linemen, it seems pretty crazy to expect anything besides a 4-lineman, 3-linebacker, attacking style defense most of the time. Crazy … like a fox. New England had some success against Miami’s offense last year using a 3-4 defense. The preseason isn’t necessarily the time to tip your hand, and with a coach like Belichick, there’s a sizable hand to avoid tipping.

In any case, if Miami’s anemic offense (ranked 30th in the NFL last year) can move the ball vs. New England, that’s a very bad sign for 2011.

Bush League: How much will the addition of running back Reggie Bush help the Dolphins? After last year’s offensive output, it certainly won’t hurt.

Still, Waters Runs Deep: Against Detroit, pressure on Brady forced him to run for cover like a crab at a clambake. New offensive lineman Brian Waters, formerly of Kansas City, became a hasty signing after an injury to Dan Connolly. It shows a lack of depth that a 34-year-old guard became a must-have, considering 34 is about 107 in O-lineman years.

On the topic of desperation…

Dearth Of Talent Leaves Pats Aiken For A Longsnapper: You’d think that hiking a football a few yards behind yourself wouldn’t be so complicated. Yet, in the last two years, the Patriots have gone through longsnappers like a five-month-old baby goes through diapers. (Seriously: it’s daunting.)

Free agent pickup James Dearth had half a cup of coffee in New England before being replaced by free agent rookie Danny Aiken, ranked the top longsnapper in the 2011 draft class. Danny, we hope we never have to speak of this position again.

Wishing you a wonderful Monday, folks. That goes for the Patriots, too.

Chris Warner can be reached at