- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Miami’s defense has traditionally struggled against the Patriots’ offense. The Dolphins will be preparing for a New England team at full strength Sept. 7 at Sun Life Stadium to open the regular season.
Though Gronkowski’s return is news to the rest of the league, the Dolphins were not surprised. Miami was bracing for Gronkowski, who is coming off an ACL tear, as soon as the NFL schedule was released in April.
"We were fully prepared. We saw he was on the 53-man roster so we have to be prepared for every combination," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Monday. "He’s an excellent player. He’s been very productive throughout his career. So we will have a good plan in place. ... We will be ready for him, for sure."
Gronkowski provides perhaps the biggest matchup problem Miami has on defense. The Dolphins' linebackers are one of the most inconsistent groups on the team -- both against the run and the pass. Gronkowski is arguably the NFL’s best tight end when healthy and New England quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target in the red zone.
"We’ve got to defend their entire group and that’s a big enough chore as it is," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "We assumed that he would be playing. So that’s kind of how we’ve been proceeding since the spring."
This will be an interesting chess match between two division opponents who know each other well. The team which best took advantage of the extra prep time will start the regular season 1-0.
"You’re always able to spend more time on your first opponent -- and that goes back to spring," Coyle said. "Certain things that we worked on, and certain things we exposed our players to, I think they have a better feeling now than if it were Game 5 or 6 during the regular season."