FOXBORO, Mass. — We’re one-fourth of the way through the 2016 NFL season, and the real Rob Gronkowski has yet to arrive on the scene.
Yes, Gronkowski technically has played this season. But ever since he tweaked his hamstring in mid-August during a joint training camp practice with the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots tight end has not been himself. He sat out the Patriots’ first two regular-season games, then was a non-factor in the next two, catching a total of one pass for 11 yards.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday morning, Gronkowski admitted he hasn’t felt 100 percent healthy since the injury.
“Obviously, it’s holding me back,” he said. “I missed the first two games, didn’t play that much the third one, and played more the fourth one. So I’ve been progressing every single week, every single day, and hopefully this week, now it’s go time.”
Gronkowski, who led all NFL tight ends in receiving yards last season, admitted he lacked his usual explosiveness when he returned to the field following the injury. Regaining it remains a work in progress.
“Coming back, you just can’t go full-speed, 100 percent,” he explained. “I mean, I wish I could. I wish it was like that, just boom, I’m healthy. Boom, go out there and run full speed. But I’ve just got to take it slowly, make sure I’m coming back strong, coming back the right way so everything on your body feels good. When I can get rolling, I’m going to be rolling.”
The Patriots have eased Gronkowski back into the offense. He was limited to 14 offense snaps (23 percent) in a Week 3 win over the Houston Texans, then primarily was used as a blocker in Sunday’s shutout loss to the Buffalo Bills, running routes on just 13 of his 39 snaps.
“It’s the tight end position, it’s part of the job — blocking, being able to go up for passes, being able to block,” Gronkowski said. “Whatever Coach (Bill Belichick) is having me do, I’m going to be doing, so I can change this week. If they want me to go out on more routes, I’m down to go out on more routes, whatever. Just progressing my hamstring, get everything going like that, progressing every single week.
“We’ll just take it one day at a time this week at practice, and we’ll see how I feel come Sunday.”
Gronkowski’s level of involvement should increase this weekend, as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returns from his Deflategate suspension. New England employed a scaled-back passing attack while Brady was sidelined, ranking 30th in the league in pass attempts and 27th in passing yards.
Martellus Bennett served as New England’s No. 1 tight end during this span and did so with distinction, leading the team in receiving yards (247 on 15 catches) while also excelling as a blocker.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images