New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski could still be seen sporting a red non-contact jersey during Monday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. For the first time this training camp, Gronkowski participated in 7-on-7 drills, but it was in a limited form. The upcoming joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles present a perfect opportunity for the Patriots to ease Gronkowski back into game-like, contact drills.
Seven months removed from ACL surgery, Gronkowsi should be more than ready to take part in team drills. His participation in 7-on-7′s may be an indication that coach Bill Belichick plans on moving Gronkowski’s return forward on Wednesday and Thursday when Chip Kelly and the Eagles invade Foxboro. Of course that notion remains to be seen.
“I’m going full speed in the drills I’m doing. There’s just limiting the drills I can do from the contact,” said Gronkowski.
Gronkowski undoubtedly must prove to himself at some point this summer that he can indeed play comfortably and effectively on his surgically repaired knee. Building confidence is key in returning from such a major injury. Lining up in a controlled, live game situation is the only way for him to do that.
One would expect to see the All-Pro tight end taking part in drills against the Eagles given what he’s been saying about his progress of late. It appears the Patriots coaching an training staff isn’t looking to far ahead when it comes to his situation.
Gronkowski says he’s getting “closer every single day to getting in there with the team, getting in there and getting some contact.” He’s taking things one day at a time and is focused on moving forward each day. “I’m just improving every day to get back out there and start hitting,” he added.
The Patriots did make several roster moves over the weekend. They released rookie tight ends Justin Jones and Asa Watson. They added three more in Steve Maneri, Ben Hartsock and Terrence Miller. Perhaps the moves hint at the team’s plans to continue on in moving Gronkowski along slowly.
Belichick refused to shed light on his plans for Gronkowski, issuing a vague statement when asked about the tight end’s status for the week. Belichick and the staff elected to leave Gronkowski behind last week when they hooked up with the Washington Redskins on the practice field.
“I’m not going to get into an injury report on every guy. We’d be here all day,” Belichick said of his tight end. “Rob will do what he can do.”
Belichick understands the importance of a healthy Gronkowski come week one. Rushing him along is likely not a priority given his recent setbacks. At some point though, he’ll need to be re-introduced to what he’s been away from since November of 2013. Whether that happens sooner or later, Gronkowski is keen on being prepared.
“I just have to make sure I do what I do right now, so when the time comes, I’m ready to go,” Gronkowski added.
Don’t bank on Gronkowski playing this Friday night, but some simple practice snaps against the Eagles would be a major step for the tight end and his progression. Let’s not forget the regular-season opener is less than a month away. There’s no better time than now for Gronkowski and the Patriots to take the next step.