FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski has been through a lot of pain and misery over the last three seasons. Bum ankle, back surgery, forearm surgery, ACL surgery.
And those are just the major injuries the most popular target of Tom Brady has endured. That’s why he’s taking his time and being measured about his rehab, working closely with Patriots trainers to make sure that he’s a full go when he returns to game action, either in the preseason or – as he hopes – by the Sept. 7 opener in Miami.
But while he can’t take part in full 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills as training camp opens, he can run individual drills and work on his routes, especially where he’s most dangerous – in the red zone. Gronkowski has been running – and cutting – on the surgically repaired right knee without any noticeable limp, a good sign as he works his way back. He did it again on Friday, catching several red zone passes from Brady, as Bill Belichick looked on.
“It’s feeling good out there running routes and getting balls thrown [to me], and it feels great being out there with my teammates again, being in the huddle, catching balls from Tom Brady. It’s a dream come true again. It feels like it got taken away, and now it feels like I’ve got it back so it’s awesome.”
He even stood behind center and lobbed one to Brady.
“Yeah, we were just having fun,” Gronk said. “Maybe we’ll put that in after that throw. It wasn’t a spiral, but I’ve got to work on that.”
Gronkowski not only is sporting a black sleeve/brace on his right knee, he is still wearing a protective sleeve on his left forearm.
“I’m used to the arm brace,” Gronkowski said. “It’s been a year now wearing that, so it’s secondhand having that on. The knee brace just started, but it’s the second day out there, and I’m already getting comfortable with everything.”
After what’s he went through with the forearm going into the 2013 season, it’s natural to think Gronkowski will be more cautious. There have even been suggestions that the team (i.e. Bill Belichick) is sending a loud message that by being cleared for practice, they expect him ready once the season starts in South Florida. Does Gronk sense this?
“No, I don’t feel any pressure at all about that,” Gronkowski said. “I worked my butt off the last six months to even be here right now at training camp, throwing with all of my teammates. I made sure I was in there every single day, rehabbing every single day so I could come out here and be running routes on Day One. So it feels great to be out here on that note.
“If I’m just working hard every single day, improving every single day, giving it all I’ve got, listening to the trainers, listening to the coaches to get myself prepared, to get myself ready ‘ that’s all I can ask for. I’m putting pressure on myself to improve every single day and work hard every single day.”
Gronkowski said it’s a realistic goal to be ready for Week 1 against the Dolphins.
“I’m preparing myself to my max ability right now for the first regular game,” he said. “I can’t say anything from here on out because it’s far away. So, every single day I’m just giving it all I’ve got in the rehab room, out here on the field, improve my knee, strengthen it all around, prepare myself, listen to my trainers what they have for me so I’m ready to go when it comes down to it. And hopefully I am.”
As for the knee?
“The knee is doing good,”
Are there any limitations?
“Yeah, obviously you’ve seen me out at practice just doing individual drills, routes and everything, getting my conditioning up, keeping the legs strengthening, keeping the body in shape ‘ all that good stuff,” he added. “[I'm] just taking it easy, slow pace and gradually increasing every single day and improving every single day.”
Here is the rest of Rob Gronkowski‘s Q and A with reporters on Friday outside Gillette Stadium:
Q: What percentage would you say you’re at?
RG: I don’t really have a percentage. I’m just improving every single day and trying to get myself completely ready so when it comes game time, I’m ready and there for my teammates.
Q: How important is it for you to be cutting on the knee and telling yourself you can handle the load once it’s ramped up?
RG: It’s important first off of rehab. For the last six months, I worked my butt off to be out here ‘ to be out here for my teammates, to be out here for myself and come out here, be satisfied running routes with the quarterbacks, running routes with the tight ends, learning from the coaches. It feels great to be out here every single day cutting on it, making it stronger and improving on it every single day, strengthening it so I’m there and I’m ready.
Q: How much have you thought about what you’ve been through physically with the forearm, the knee and the back over the last two years?
RG: It’s been a lot, but I’m putting that in my past now and just grinding right now, going to get my knee 100 percent ready to go and just going to not dwell on the past and keep looking forward. And hopefully everything goes right how I want it to.
Q: Last year, you sat out a few games even though you were cleared to play. Will you consider sitting out even if you’re cleared to play just to make sure you’re ready for the whole season?
RG: Last year, I’m putting that one in the past. We’re all on the same page as a team, an organization, myself, the trainers, the doctors ‘ we’re all on the same page. It’s just to keep working hard, and we’ve got so long until the first preseason game, until the first game of the year. Just as long as we’re improving every single day, going out there hustling, getting in shape, running routes, getting football acclimated ‘ it feels good to be out there. I’m not really worried right now, and I’m just working hard every day.
Q: Was there a time last year where you weren’t on the same page?
RG: No, not really. I guess it seemed like that out there, but in the organization, we were on the same page. This year we’re all on the same page again. It’s going well, and it just feels really good to be out there with my teammates and giving it all I’ve got when I’m out there.
Q: How did it feel last year when you went down with the injury, knowing you were done for the season?
RG: I’m not dwelling on that in the past. Right now I’m just looking forward to the future and what that holds. And what that holds is just having practice every single day and going to meetings, learning the playbook even more, learning new positions, learning everything I can do to go out there to help my teammates to the max to help them win games.
Q: Do you feel like you can pick up where you left off and be Tom Brady’s No. 1 target?
RG: I definitely feel like I can go back out there right where I left and pick it right back up. Whoever Tom throws to, whoever Tom throws to. I’ll just be out there and help my teammates win for sure.
Q: You do recognize how much Tom relies on you, though?
RG: It’s a team game. We all rely on each other to the max. If one person isn’t doing their job, then the whole team isn’t doing their job. We’re all a big part of the offense, every single player that’s out there at the same time.
Q: Do you guys think you’ll be a very good team, especially with the defensive additions?
RG: It all depends on how we work, how our training camp is, how we work together as a team. And that’s what’s so great about this game is that it’s such a team game ‘ all 11 players out on the field working together. The defense, they’re looking good. We’ve got a lot of big players, a lot of fast players, and it’s going to be a lot of fun competing versus them throughout all of camp and just seeing all their skill sets and seeing what they can do. It’ll be awesome.
Q: Was your summer really not as fun as you made it seem with rehab every day?
RG: Yeah, it was boring this year. I was rehabbing every day. It was miserable. Hopefully that never happens again, and I don’t wish anything on anyone like I had these past few years. I’m just literally looking forward to the future and just getting back out on the field and just making some plays and helping my teammates out.