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Tight end back in formation

A healthy return for Gronkowski

Second-round pick Rob Gronkowski said his health concerns are “all in the past.’’ Second-round pick Rob Gronkowski said his health concerns are “all in the past.’’ (Robert E. Klein for The Globe)
By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / May 1, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Tight end Rob Gronkowski doesn’t like to live in the past or talk about it much, for that matter. Back surgery kept the rookie out of Arizona from playing in 2009, and health questions have lingered.

Gronkowski returned to the football field yesterday feeling healthy for the first time in nearly two years as he took part in the first day of rookie minicamp held at Gillette Stadium. He said health concerns are “all in the past.’’

Gronkowski has not played since 2008, when he made 47 catches for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games. Back pain kept him out the first three weeks of his junior season and eventually forced him to have surgery. At the NFL Combine in February, Gronkowski described the minimally invasive procedure as basically shaving “off the disk that’s sticking out on to your spinal cord.’’

The surgery required up to five months of recovery, and now Gronkowski is focused on playing again. The Patriots used Gronkowski primarily as the in-line tight end, while tight end Aaron Hernandez lined up wide, in the slot, at H-back, and at fullback.

“It was fun,’’ said Gronkowski. “Being back on the field is great. It meant a lot. It feels great just to be out here participating and be back on a team participating with everyone. It’s just a fun time out there playing football.’’

There is a position for Gronkowski and Hernandez to fight for. With Benjamin Watson off to Cleveland and Chris Baker signing with Seattle, the position is open. The Patriots signed veteran Alge Crumpler and have drafted youth to see what mix works best.

Coach Bill Belichick said it is too early to tell how the tight ends will fit into the Patriots’ scheme.

“Right now, they are inexperienced,’’ Belichick said. “They have a lot to learn. Aaron was in a multiple offense, some of what we run, but there are certainly a lot of differences. Rob was in much more of a stationary position even though they moved him around some, so I think there’s still quite a bit of learning for both of those guys to do and definitely playing against players who are a lot more skilled than what they played against in college, so that’s a lot of work for all of them. We’ll see how it goes.’’

The Patriots like Gronkowski’s potential. They traded up to grab the 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pounder in the second round, the 42d overall pick.

Gronkowski said his biggest concern is getting in better shape and doing the most he can before he puts the pads on again.

“I’m eager, but I’ve got to learn a lot, too,’’ he said. “I got to learn the whole playbook. I got to learn all the technique stuff. I mean, I got to get used to everything back out here running around. Eventually, it will come.’’

Helping hand
Belichick was asked what helped him feel comfortable drafting Hernandez.

“Everybody that’s here we feel like can help our football team and that’s why they’re on it,’’ Belichick said.

Hernandez released a statement during the week stating he failed one drug test in three years at Florida. It was issued in response to a Globe report that, citing sources from five NFL teams, said Hernandez failed multiple drug tests. Hernandez slipped to the fourth round in the draft.

Hernandez did not address the media after the morning session.

Stand-up linebacker
Brandon Spikes got himself in a bit of trouble last November in a game against Georgia. The Florida linebacker tried to gouge the eyes of running back Washaun Ealey.

Gators coach Urban Meyer suspended Spikes for the first half of Florida’s next game, against Vanderbilt, but Spikes chose to sit out the entire game as punishment, with Meyer’s support.

Spikes said he knows children watch college football and he didn’t want them to think that is how the game should be played.

“I feel like, if you do something wrong you should know the consequences,’’ said Spikes, who was a team captain for the Gators.

QB keeper
Zac Robinson stayed at quarterback in both sessions yesterday. Robinson has heard talk he might be better suited at another position, but the seventh-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State said, “I’ve been a quarterback my whole life. Not once has a coach talked to me about playing anything but quarterback. I played receiver for half a season in high school.

“I think it just comes from being mobile and I made some plays with my feet in college, but I made a lot more plays with my arm,’’ he added. “I think that just comes with the territory. I ran a decent 40, but I’ve been a quarterback my whole life.’’

Inside moves
A few tidbits from the sessions: Spikes lined up at the “Mike,’’ while defensive end Dane Fletcher, an undrafted free agent out of Montana State, took a couple of reps at weakside inside linebacker. Punters David King and Zoltan Mesko showed some leg strength. Mesko boomed a punt 70 yards.

Jets are all ears
With Adalius Thomas looking for work, Jets coach Rex Ryan didn’t give any hints about bringing his former Ravens linebacker to New York.

“We’ll always listen to anything,’’ Ryan told the New York Daily News.

“If you’re just going to take a defensive end, or an inside linebacker, or an outside linebacker, then he’s not going to be quite as effective,’’ Ryan said of Thomas. “If you can use him all over the place as a defensive end, an inside linebacker, and outside backer, a safety, he’s special. We’ll see.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Albert Breer and Shalise Manza Young of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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