FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Since Rob Gronkowski entered the NFL in 2010, the Sunday battles over the middle of the field at Gillette Stadium have routinely been won by an All-Pro.

With Gronkowski full healthy ahead of Sunday’s game against the Vikings, that trend should continue this weekend. The only question will be which All-Pro.

As soon as Minnesota safety Harrison Smith takes to the field, he will become one of the best defenders New England has seen all season.

Last year, Smith graded out as the NFL’s top-ranked safety by Pro Football Focus. On Wednesday, Bill Belichick grouped him with future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu while describing Smith’s ability to disguise his intentions pre-snap.

Such deception is how Smith became the first of two people to intercept Saints quarterback Drew Brees this season.

“Those guys are, I’d say, among the best. He’s certainly right there,” Belichick said of Smith, Reed and Polamalu. “He’s a hard guy to read. He does an excellent job of timing his movement based on either the quarterback’s cadence, the offensive formation, motion, the play clock, all those combination of things. … He’s really good.”

Disguise is hardly Smith’s only skill, though. He’s adept at covering man-to-man and in zone. He hits hard in run support. Smith’s blitzing efforts have yielded three sacks.

In coverage, his 6-foot-2 frame should come in handy against Gronkowski, who typically overpowers defensive backs down the seam and near the line of scrimmage.

“He’s a big guy. He’s physical and he’s tough. And he’s going to be bringing it,” Gronkowski said.

After missing three of New England’s four previous games due to injury, Gronkowski matched up frequently Sunday against Jets safety Jamal Adams. Adams, another former first-rounder, carries similar size and executes similar responsibilities as Smith. While Adams did win critical one-on-one snaps against Gronkowski, the veteran tight end finished three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in a winning effort and occasionally drew coverage away from other targets.

Four years ago, Gronkowski was held to four receptions for 32 yards at Minnesota. Smith, meanwhile, totaled eight tackles in a 30-7 loss. While it’s unlikely he’ll be glued to Gronkowski Sunday, Smith could see more of him if Gronk fires out to a dominant start over the middle.

And without question, their battles will be among the best of the day.

“Smith’s all over the field. He’s blitzing, he’s covering, he’s down a lot in run game. He’s a good player,” Gronkowski said.

AT PRACTICE: The Patriots had full attendance on Thursday for the first time since Oct. 10.

Duane Allen was back after suffering a knee injury in Tennessee three weeks ago. Allen, 28, has been a solid blocking tight end this season. He returns to a tight end depth chart that includes Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister.

Gronkowski was removed off of the injury report Wednesday, but was back on it Thursday as he was listed as limited with a back/ankle injury. Tom Brady (knee) was once again limited along with Allen and Nate Ebner (knee).

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