FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Go ahead and hit Rob Gronkowski on his right knee. See if he cares.
The tough tight end is anxious to get into a game and take his chances less than eight months after surgery.
“If I’m ready to get out there, I’m ready to get out there,” the Patriots’ star said Monday after his first contact drills. “It’s just like any other part of the body getting hit now. So once I get rolling like that, it’ll just be like another day getting hit.”
Playing in New England’s third preseason game Friday night against Carolina seems unlikely.
Playing in the regular-season opener Sept. 7 against Miami? That’s still his goal, although the coaches and training staff will have the final say.
“I just love playing the game of football,” Gronkowski said. “So whenever they let me have a chance, I definitely want to play.”
The contact was light, but it was encouraging after his last two injury-filled seasons.
He missed the first six games last year recovering from forearm and back surgeries. In his seventh game back, the ACL and MCL in his right knee were torn on Dec. 8 on a hit by Cleveland safety TJ Ward, now with Denver.
Gronkowski underwent surgery on Jan. 9, was cleared to participate in non-contact drills when camp opened and spent time running routes and catching passes from Tom Brady without defenders. He recently started doing that against cornerback Darrelle Revis.
That was a necessary step before getting into team drills.
“It’s huge,” Gronkowski said. “It’s always good to do everything I was doing leading up to it, so when I went out there today I felt like I was prepared.”
Monday’s drills were just another step in his progression to playing without restrictions.
“It wasn’t like full (contact) or anything,” Gronkowski said. “It was just little routes and stuff, but (I’m) feeling good, progressed a lot out there doing routes versus the defense.”
He did that in 11-on-11 drills for the first time and expects to step up his activities Tuesday.
Now come more repetitions and some blocking.
The Patriots had just one healthy tight end for Friday’s 42-35 preseason win over Philadelphia, converted tackle Steve Maneri. And he signed with the team just five days earlier.
Michael Hoomanawanui, the No. 2 tight end, had a brace on his left knee Monday and didn’t participate in team drills. Another tight end, D.J. Williams, is out with a left leg injury.
So on Monday the Patriots re-signed tight end Justin Jones, a rookie free agent, just eight days after cutting him.