"Treadmill's moving; we're going to jump on and start running. It's going to be moving fast. We've got a lot of ground to cover. I've already emphasized to the players how important it is that we keep up, not fall behind. We've got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to get ready for our competitive practices and preseason games that are coming up. And the season's right behind it." - Bill BelichickAnd with that quote, football season was back in New England.
Things are "back to normal" for the Patriots, but that phrase has a whole new meaning in Foxborough this season.
And leave it to Gronk to put a smile on everyone's face in Patriot Nation.
Just the mere fact that Rob Gronkowski, currently in the Physically Unable to Performa list, showed up Saturday, albeit a good 80 minutes into practice, reminds us of the good old days when the biggest scandal the Patriots had to deal with was having their young, strapping tight end appear on Twitter in a photo with young, budding adult film star Bibi Jones.
Then there's Tim Tebow, who hasn't had his photo taken with Bibi Jones, as far as we know.
Just having Gronk and Tebow alone would be enough to keep the circus atmosphere alive and well in Foxborough. Gronk will draw plenty of attention even when he's not playing. He's the most likely member of the Patriots not to listen to management when it comes to keeping quiet on the Aaron Hernandez situation. Gronk's already passed up publicly discussing the Hernandez case, but my guess is that the able scribes, reporters and columnists who cover this team on site will be pressing him to speak until he cracks under the mental pressure and/or journalistic trickery.
Gronk caused a furor with his post-Super-Bowl loss breakdancing and further tumbling that some believe exaggerated his multiple injuries. Given Gronk's age, he's only 25, and the fact that he's already undergone multiple surgeries on his back and arm, the term "injury prone" would apply with or without his You Tube antics.
The presence/absence of Gronkowski just heightens awareness of who else won't be playing for the Patriots this season. In case you missed it, the stat of the day floating around the interwebs and sports TV networks on Friday was this fact: the number one pass catcher from last season who is returning to the Patriots is none other than Shane Vereen, who had all of eight receptions last season from the arm of Tom Brady. [Wes Welker had 118.]
There's plenty of hate, frustration and anger directed at Hernandez this days. Fans, players and coaches are only going to get angrier and further dismayed each time there's a missed route or dropped pass on a 3rd-and-8 that "Hernandez would have caught."
Much of that "damn _____ would have caught it" antipathy that might have been directed toward Hernandez will be mitigated by the loss of Welker, whose departure to Denver will harm this team on the field far more significantly than the loss of Hernandez to the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Hernandez is ultimately responsible for his actions, at least according yours truly, the laws of the Commonwealth and none other than Brady.
The Patriots, however, bear a lion's share of the burden for Welker's current residence atop Peyton Manning's depth chart. Those dropped passes and missed routes, especially on third down, will trigger even more cursing and damnation directed at Belichick and Bob Kraft for failing to secure Welker's place in New England.
Thankfully, the Patriots do have Brady, who turns 36 a week from today. Brady has made a career out of overcoming low expectations, starting with the fact that he went from the 119th pick overall and seventh QB taken in the 2000 draft to a Super Bowl champion in less than 22 months. Welker was an underperforming receiver with the Dolphins for two seasons before he came to New England. He had 96 catches in 32 games with Miami, including a 21-0 victory over New England on Dec. 10, 2006. That was the last time the Patriots were shutout. The fact that Welker has the most catches  in the NFL since 2007 has as much to do with Brady [with a hand from Matt Cassel] as it does with Welker's sure hands and rock-hard toughness. Brady tends to make a lot of receivers look good.
So all is not lost.
But much has been lost, starting with Welker, Hernandez and Gronkowski.
At least Gronk will be back, eventually. And given what else has gone on since the good old days of 2011 when Gronk was spiking his way through the hearts of Patriots' fans and adult film stars, he's got a life-time pass to goof off as much as he wants, as long as none gets hurt, or shot.
We could all use a little "Yo Soy Fiesta" right now.
Listening to Bill Belichick talk during these first couple of days of camp has helped to bolster the belief that the Patriots have put the Hernandez situation behind them. Of course, we all know that's not the case. The players are under a "say nothing" order for many reasons, not to the least of which is to avoid having to be dragged into the criminal and, eventually, civil proceedings surrounding what Hernandez allegedly did to Odin Lloyd.
As soon as someone let's it slip that "Aaron and I were talking the day before all this happened and he told me ...", that player would likely find himself the subject of questioning by police, and, eventually at trial, both prosecutors and defense attorneys. The civil liability is even greater for the team and league. Even O.J., who was acquitted in his murder trial, still got killed when it came to civil liability in the deaths of his ex-wife and her boyfriend.
Tebow, who managed to throw passes, complete passes, throw interceptions and make a few catches all during his first day in Patriots' camp, is perhaps the closest player to ground zero in this situation. Tebow and Hernandez were BFFs, teammates and roommates at Florida. [Of course, Tebow is BFFs with everyone.] Who knows how close their relationship has been since?
Fast-forward a few months and imagine criminal investigators, or even attorneys representing Lloyd's estate in a civil law suit, questioning Tebow in a deposition about Hernandez.
Once Timmy swears on the Bible under an oath to God to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," all bets are off when it comes to keeping the lid on anything in Hernandez's past or personality.
Even this off-the-cuff conversation between Brady and Tebow after the Patriots' win over Denver in late 2011 could become grist for criminal investigators or, worse, any settlement-hungry attorneys who may be going after whatever money Hernandez has left after paying his lawyers, the Patriots and or NFL for reparations in Lloyd's case.
The "Hernandez situation" - or more importantly - the murder of Odin Lloyd - is not going anywhere. It's going to be lurking around every corner at Patriot Place and on the minds of every fan who sits at Gillette Stadium or watches the Patriots on TV. It will be evident on the field whenever the Patriots are forced to punt, someone drops a pass or, the team struggles with its offense.
No one has any idea when Gronk will be back catching passes. Belichick was Belichickian as ever when asked about Gronk's situation on Friday, too.
"Can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen...Just take everybody day by day, see how they do and treat them the next day based on their performance and how they feel from the day before. That will be the same with everybody. There is nobody in any different category than that. They’re all the same.”
Beautiful. Just another sign that things are back to normal.
Or as normal as they'll even be again with the Patriots.
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