FOXBOROUGH — Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski makes everyone around him better when he is on the field, but as for when that will happen, not even he is certain yet.
Gronkowski tore his right ACL in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns, and is still wearing a protective brace on the knee. He has participated in every practice, but not in any of the 1-on-1, 7-on-7, or 11-on-11 drills with the rest of the team.
He still has not been cleared for contact, but is optimistic about his trajectory.
"[I get] closer every single day to getting in there with the team, getting in there, getting some contact," he said. "Just talking to the trainers, we don't have a set date with that or anything. Just taking it day by day and we'll see how tomorrow goes. Just improving every day to get back out there and start hitting."
Gronkowski did not make the trip to Richmond, Va., for joint practices with the Washington Redskins and the preseason game that followed. That may have been for the best, though, as Gronkowski now says he is feeling better after the week off.
"Just listened to the trainers, stayed back, just working out and stuff, getting in shape," Gronkowski said of what he did while the team was in Virginia. "Basically, I went hard during the practices all last week and just a little time off to let the knee heal up a little bit more. You know, you can't always be grinding on it 24/7 coming off an injury. You've got to let it heal. You've got to hit it hard and let it heal. So [there have been] no setbacks, I'm improving every single week [and] feeling better since the time off."
The Patriots have been losing depth at tight end very quickly. Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams have both missed several practices with injuries, and the Patriots recently made a string of roster moves at the position by releasing rookie tight ends Justin Jones and Asa Watson before signing Ben Hartsock, Steve Maneri, and Terrence Miller.
The All-Pro tight end has not been participating in team drills yet in training camp, but he has still been going hard. Although he is only running routes either on air or 1-on-1 against cornerback Darrelle Revis, Gronkowski says he hasn't been holding back.
"I'm not out here running routes or anything at like 80 percent or anything, as you can see. I'm just running out there, I'm going full speed in the drills I'm doing, but they're just limiting the drills I can do, from the contact. [I'm] going full speed out there on my routes."
The sooner Gronkowski gets back out on the practice field at 100 percent and fully participating with his teammates, the better off the team will be. Gronkowski isn't rushing, though, and is heeding the word of the trainers before going back out there.
Right now, the goal is just to keep improving.
"We really don't have a schedule all set and planned," he reiterated. "Our schedule is to just get better every single day, every single week, and that's what's been going on. I'm feeling good out there, and [I've] just got to keep on improving."