DAVIE -- Rob Gronkowski put the NFL on notice by saying he intends to play in Sunday's season-opener against the Miami Dolphins, despite sitting out all of New England's preseason.
"I'm ready to go. I'll be playing," Gronkowski told Patriots reporters on Monday.
The tight end underwent ACL reconstruction after tearing the ligament in his right knee last December against the Browns. He's nearly nine months into his rehab process, and has been eased back into practice since New England's camp started. But he hasn't played in an exhibition game, and his participation in New England's contract-driven portion of practices has been limited.
"We were fully prepared. We saw he's on the 53-man roster, so you have to be prepared for every combination. He's an excellent player," coach Joe Philbin said. "He's been a very, very productive player throughout his career. We'll have a good plan in place, but he's certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We'll be ready for him, for sure."
While Gronkowski, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end who has scored 42 touchdowns in his first four seasons, will be eased back into action, and into New England's offense, the Dolphins should remain tremendously concerned because a healthy Gronkowski is the biggest matchup problem the Dolphins have against the Patriots.
Covering a healthy Gronkowski is a nightmare problem for any team, and making matters worse if the fact the Dolphins have a long standing history of coverage issues with the team's present linebackers when it comes to the upper echelon tight ends.
The Dolphins contained Gronkowski last season because he was working his way back from a forearm injury. The Dolphins were the second team he faced that season, and Dion Jordan, the Dolphins' 2013 first-round pick, did an admirable job shadowing Gronkowski in the first game.
Gronkowski only caught two passes for 27 yards in Miami's 27-17 second half loss. He tore his ACL before the second meeting between these two AFC East rivals, and Miami beat the Patriots 24-20 on Dec. 15 in game that was decided in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
But Jordan is suspended the first four games of 2014 for PED use, and Miami must find someone to contain Tom Brady's favorite target.
Starting outside linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe will likely draw New England's tight ends, which also includes Michael Hoomanawanui and Tim Wright, but expect plenty of help from starting safeties Louis Delmas and Jimmy Wilson.
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