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NOTEBOOK: Covering Gronk Just Part of the Challenge Against Patriots 

EAGAN, Minn. — Jayron Kearse has been locked in with his film study so far this week, especially when it comes to studying up on Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots tight end is in his ninth season in the league and is often a favorite target for quarterback Tom Brady.

Kearse said he’s been analyzing their connection on a nightly basis.

“I’ve been watching the way he runs his routes and certain things he does in different types of formations,” Kearse said. “I’ve been studying him pretty hard.”

Kearse explained what makes the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end such a nuisance to defend.

“Those 50-50 balls … when Tom is throwing it up and giving him a chance to go make a play, he usually comes down [with the ball] and makes those plays,” Kearse said. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he’s big and when that ball is in the air, he can go get it.”

Gronkowski has long been looked at as one of the league’s best tight ends. He has 506 receptions for 7,683 yards in 110 career games.

Gronkowski has also been a touchdown machine, with 78 trips to the end zone, a stat that ranks 30th all-time and third among tight ends in league history. He has five seasons of double-digit scores in his career.

Will Kearse be the one to cover the lumbering tight end on Sunday?

“It’s really whatever the coaches call when we get out there. That’s how we’re going to go with it. It’s more of a game-flow thing and see how things go,” Kearse said before adding that he would certainly embrace the challenge.

 “This whole entire game … going against one of the best tight ends in the game is something I’m definitely looking forward to,” Kearse said. “Hopefully we can come out on top as a team and I can win my matchups against him.”

But what makes the Patriots dangerous — besides having perhaps the best quarterback to ever play the game under center — is that New England has a multitude of weapons Brady can turn to. That’s been helpful as Gronkowski has missed three games this season because of injuries.

The Patriots have four players with 500-plus receiving yards in 2018. They are one of two teams in the NFL to reach that total along with Tampa Bay, which has five players with 500-pus receiving yards.

Running back James White leads New England with 567 yards. Josh Gordon (547), Julian Edelman (510) and Gronkowski (504) also make the cut.

It seems as if Brady has played with dozens and dozens of players during his career, and has made everyone from Hall of Famer Randy Moss to former Patriots tight end Matthew Mulligan [one career touchdown catch from Brady] look good in New England’s offense.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said it rarely matters who is being targeted by Brady.

“[It looks] pretty much the same,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “They’ll use guys a little differently if they’re skill set is a little bit different.

“Obviously when they had different tight ends and not Gronkowski, they used them a little differently,” Zimmer added. “I think they do a good job of using the player’s skill set to run their offense.”

Brady has thrown touchdown passes to 71 different receivers in his career. Gronkowski tops the list with 77 career touchdown catches from the surefire future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Harris maintains starting role

The Vikings placed Andrew Sendejo on Injured Reserve on Tuesday with an injured groin, meaning the Vikings safety will likely miss the rest of the season.

Sendejo, who started 40 games from 2015-2017, was the starter for the first five games of the 2018 season before getting hurt against the Eagles in Week 5.

Anthony Harris saw an increased role after Sendejo’s injury, including starting next to Harrison Smith for the past four games.

Zimmer announced Wednesday that Harris will be the starter at safety going forward, but the former undrafted free agent out of Virginia said he’s going to stick with the same mindset going forward.

“It kind of really doesn’t change anything that we’ve done over the past few weeks,” Harris said. “For me, it will be the same preparation.

“As a team, we know guys are going to embrace new roles,” Harris added. “We’re just going to continue to move forward and prepare for this game and go from there.”

Harris is in line to make his 13th career start and play in his 47th career game on Sunday against the Patriots. The 27-year-old has three career interceptions (all in 2018), with three career fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

An update on Pro Bowl voting

You can still make an impact and get your favorite Vikings in the Pro Bowl.

Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter ranks first in the NFC, and is third in the NFL, among leading vote getters. Safety Harrison Smith is second in the NFC and third in the NFL, while Adam Thielen is third in the NFC and fifth overall in the NFL.

Here’s an update on other notable Vikings on the ballot:

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is sixth in the NFC and eighth in the NFL, while center Pat Elflein is seventh in the NFC and 10th in the NFL.

Kicker Dan Bailey is fourth in the NFC and eighth in the NFL, punter Matt Wile is sixth in the NFC and ninth in the NFL, and Kearse is seventh in the NFC and 10th in the NFL as a special teams player.

Fans can vote online at NFL.com/ProBowlVote until Dec. 13. During the final two weeks of Pro Bowl voting, which is from Nov. 29 through Dec. 13 – fans can also vote on Twitter using #ProBowlVote along with a player’s first and last name, the player’s official Twitter handle, or a hashtag including the player’s first and last name.

Injury reports

For the Vikings: Stefon Diggs (knee), David Morgan (knee), Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) and Chad Beebe (hamstring) did not participate. Ben Gedeon (concussion) and Adam Thielen (calf) were limited. Mike Remmers (low back), Tom Compton (knee) and Eric Kendricks (chest) were full participants.

For the Patriots: Dwayne Allen (knee) did not participate. Brady (knee) and Nate Ebner (knee) were limited. Edelman (foot) was a full participant.

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