The two older brothers of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski were among the more than 120 offensive players participating on the second day of the NFL Regional Scouting Combine in South Florida. They had to look past the Dolphins logo that was everywhere inside the Dolphins' practice bubble and focus on putting up the best times, distances and positional-drill results possible.
"I was actually with the Patriots for a year also, so I played down here in Miami," said Dan Gronkowski, who measured in at 6-foot-5 7/8 and weighed in at 255 pounds. "I love the warm weather being from Buffalo. It's good to get out of all that snow and get down here for this combine, but being a professional, you've got to be professional on whatever team you're on. Growing up in Buffalo you always hated the Dolphins but I just remember my one friend always liked the opposite team and he liked the Dolphins so I remember always going at it with him."
Both brothers have the added benefit of real NFL experience on their resumes -- in addition to their very recognizable last name -- but they aren't taking any of that for granted. Dan draws the most comparisons to his Pro Bowl sibling since he plays the same position and is very similar in size. He was a seventh-round draft choice of the Detroit Lions in 2009 out of Maryland but only appeared in two games for them as a rookie before spending 2010 with the Denver Broncos and 2011 with the Cleveland Browns and the Patriots.
Dan's best season came with the Broncos when he started four of the 12 games he played and caught eight passes for 65 yards, but he has been out of the league for two years. Chris went undrafted out of Arizona in 2010 but started seven of 14 games for the Dallas Cowboys that year, catching seven passes for 35 yards and a touchdown and rushing five times for 17 yards. He appeared in seven games with the Indianapolis Colts in 2011 and 14 games with the Broncos in 2012 before taking an injury settlement from the San Diego Chargers last summer after getting hurt during training camp. Like his brother, he looked at this combine as a chance to get back in front of NFL eyes in hopes of getting a second chance.
Unfortunately for Chris, he pulled his hamstring on his first attempt running the 40-yard dash and had to skip his second attempt and sit out the passing drills. The 40 was the last measurable portion of his workout and he did well at the other three stations -- the vertical jump, broad jump and the three-cone shuttle, but he was still disappointed at his misfortune.
"I felt great coming out and felt like I had a great start actually," Chris said. "I think I just got such a good push that I ended up tweaking it a little bit. I wanted to come out here and show that I was healthy and ready to take another shot and this just shows (the scouts) that you're still working hard and you still want to play."
Unlike the NFL Scouting Combine that took place in Indianapolis last month, where 335 of the best college prospects from around the country gathered in front of all 32 teams, the age range of athletes at regional combines is quite diverse. Dan and Chris were trying to stand out among players as much as seven years younger than them and even four years older than them.
"You can tell it's a big mix here, but Chris and I have the most experience out of anyone here," said Dan, who saw his brother pull up with the injury just before he had to do his three-cone drill. "It's just about getting in front of people and for us it's about extending our careers, while for all of these other guys it's about trying to get a shot."
Dan was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis back in 2009, so he knew what to expect, although it was a bit different having everything condensed into half a day rather than spread out over three days. He felt good about his performance by the time he wrapped up his workout, and believes he put up better numbers at the age of 29 than he did five years ago. This time around he was balancing a regular day job helping his father sell fitness equipment.
"I'm working a real job now, so it's not as easy to train anymore," Dan said. "I think I'm just a lot more mature out there and hopefully a team picks me up and gives me a shot. Chris and I are in the same situation, we're both NFL players just trying to find the right spot and hopefully we'll catch some eyes here and get to extend our careers a little longer."
Dan was happy to make it through the day healthy and show that he can move well as he sees himself as more of a blocking tight end. Now he has to wait for that phone call again, while Chris has to hold out hope that perhaps he'll get another chance in a few weeks at the Super Regional Combine in Detroit on April 12-13.