FOXBOROUGH – As the Patriots returned to training camp Tuesday, Rob Gronkowski continued his routine of working individually, abstaining from any team drills or contact situations as he continues his rehabilitation from last year’s knee injury.
There will be a time when the Patriots’ tight end will be able to start taking hits again, but for now, Gronkowski’s biggest step is getting his conditioning and timing up to speed.
“The side work is going good, I’m getting used to everything I can do,” Gronkowski said after Tuesday’s practice. “Doing conditioning, which is my number one factor right now, that’s what I can work out to the max – running around and getting my body used to everything. Working individually, listening to my coaches and getting my individual routes and blocking down to the best of my ability.”
During Tuesday’s practice, Gronkwoski spent time working individually with quarterback Tom Brady, running short goal-line routes under the supervision of tight end coach Brian Daboll.
There was an emphasis on Gronkowski’s timing and getting in synch with Brady’s passes.
“It’s coming along well, every single week just picking up more,” Gronkowski said. “Even doing walk-throughs, anything out here with the offense as a whole, just getting the timing down, getting Brady’s cadence down, getting off the ball with the tackles, getting off the ball with the wide receivers, everything like that all comes together and it’s big to be a part of it even if you’re not against a defense.”
Gronkowski said that there was no set timetable for the next “big-step” in his rehabilitation, but that the next step could be running routes against defenders.
Gronkowski also received some throws from Brady while being shadowed lightly by cornerback Darrelle Revis, and the Patriots tight end said he enjoyed having a defensive presence in front of him.
“It’s good, [Revis] is a good player and it was good having him out there,” Gronkowski said. “Even though it wasn’t full or anything, just having him out their shadowing, running some routes, it’s good to get that work in and have a defender around you so you know what it’s like when it’s time for full speed. Any presence in front of my face trying to go against me brings out the competitiveness in me.”
The biggest questions surrounding Gronkowski are when exactly he will start participating in contact drills, and how much playing time, if any at all, he’ll see in the team’s preseason games.
Does Gronkowski plan on taking a hit before he comes back to the regular season?
“You always expect to take a hit before you step out on the field before any game,” Gronkowski said. “You’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to be ready, and whenever that is, I’m obviously going to take some hits in practice before I have to step out on the field.”
When Gronkowski does return to the field, Patriots fans will collectively wince every time the burly tight end takes a hit, particularly ones directed at his legs.
Former Patriots hard-hitting safety Rodney Harrison told Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald the following:
“I’m going to tell you this, and it might sound egregious, but people and teams think like this. ‘Heck, if you get a shot at Gronkowski’s knee, you better take it. Because that might be the difference of us going to the playoffs, or us winning the division, and us not winning the division and going to playoffs.’”
When asked about Harrison’s comments, Gronkowski said he’s not going to be conscious about players targeting his knees, echoing last week’s comments about his plan to keep “smashing and dashing.”
“It’s the NFL, you’re hitting every single play, every single down, and you can be hit anywhere,” Gronkowski said. “Just have to be aware who’s coming at you, where they’re coming at you. You’ve got to make a move, you’ve got to dive, get out of the way, you got to put your shoulder down.”