Patriots fans were encouraged this week by the sight of tight end Aaron Hernandez returning to the practice field, stirring speculation that the versatile playmaker could be suiting up for games within weeks.
But, just as New England gains one of its elite tight ends, the team may also be dealing with serious injury complications to its other standout.
Rob Gronkowski, who has been listed on the injury report in recent weeks with a hip ailment, "has been dealing with significant pain these last two weeks," according to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com.
The Patriots have been making moves to protect Gronkowski from further injury, such as limiting his snaps and cutting down his practice reps, Reiss reports.
Gronkowski has had his share of injuries in the past, including recurring back problems in college at Arizona and last year's ankle injury, which he fought through to play in the Super Bowl. While a limited Gronkowski is still effective, lingering issues could spell trouble for a Patriots team that is looking for Gronkowski to contribute long-term, especially after the six-year, $54 million deal he signed this offseason.
Hernandez is expected back sometime in October from a high ankle sprain, according to reports.