FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Rob Gronkowski ran short routes, caught passes and jogged back to the line of scrimmage.
He didn’t cut sharply, run hard at defensive backs or participate in 11-on-11 drills.
The oft-injured tight end for the New England Patriots is practicing at training camp but not ready for full activity as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. He’s not even sure he’ll play in the opener Sept. 7.
“I’m preparing myself to my max ability right now for the first regular game,” Gronkowski said, dripping with sweat after Friday’s workout. “I really can’t say anything from here on out because it’s far away.”
The signs of his surgical history are obvious – a heavy brace on his left arm, another brace on his right knee.
“I’m used to the arm brace now. It’s been a year now wearing that so it’s second hand now having that thing on,” Gronkowski said. “The knee brace just started, but today’s the second day out there and I’m already getting comfortable with everything.
“It’s great to be 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 I feel like I got it back so it’s awesome.”
Injuries have derailed a pro career that started with significant production.
Gronkowski missed his final college season at Arizona following back surgery but, as a rookie in 2010, he had 42 catches for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns. The next season he set NFL records for tight ends with 1,327 yards receiving, 17 touchdown receptions and 18 total touchdowns. He also caught 90 passes and was an outstanding blocker.
In 2012 he started strong before breaking his left forearm in the 11th game while blocking for an extra point.
Since then he’s missed 17 of the Patriots’ next 26 games, including the playoffs. And he was on the weekly injury report or the injured reserve list for each of the past 33 games.
“It’s been a lot but I’m putting that all in my past now and just grinding right now, going to get my knee 100 percent ready to go,” Gronkowski said. “I’m just not going to dwell on the past.”
Even without setbacks, he’s not likely to be dominant right away, especially if he doesn’t play preseason games or takes limited contact in practices.
Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis played all 16 games for Tampa Bay last season after recovering from knee surgery, but “it was tough. I wasn’t where I needed to be,” he said.
“They say it takes a year and a half or two” to return to pre-injury condition,” Revis said. “I think I’m at a point now where I’m there. This offseason was a full offseason for me where I can just focus on working out instead of doing the rehab (as) soon as you get the injury. So I’m fine, man. Like I said, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in my career.”
He had more time to recover than Gronkowski but said “everybody goes through it differently.”
Revis tore his left ACL on Sept. 23, 2012 and underwent surgery Oct. 16. Gronkowski tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee last Dec. 8 and had his operation on Jan. 9.
“I’m just doing individual drills, routes out there and everything, getting my conditioning up, keeping the leg strengthening, getting my body in shape,” Gronkowski said. “All that good stuff.”
He began last season on the sideline after four surgeries on his left forearm and a back operation June 18.
The Patriots kept him off the regular-season physically unable to perform list, which would have required him to miss the first six games. The team hoped he’d be back sooner, but Gronkowski and his advisers were cautious. He finally returned for the seventh game.
“I’m putting that one in the past,” he said. “We’re all on the same page right now – the team, organization, myself, the trainers, the doctors.”
Were they on different pages last year? “No. Not really,” Gronkowski said. “I guess it seemed like that out there, but in the organization we were all on the same page and this year we’re all on the same page again, so it’s going well.”
He expects it to keep getting better.
“I definitely feel like I can go back out there right where I left and pick it right back up,” Gronkowski said. “It was boring this year. I was rehabbing every day. I was miserable. Hopefully that never happens again.”