FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots hit the field for their first training camp practice of the summer Thursday morning, and no one looked more excited to be there than Rob Gronkowski.
After missing the final two months of the 2016 season following back surgery, the big tight end was a bundle of energy during the session, punctuating several of his five catches with exuberant celebrations. Those included a slightly toned-down version of his patented Gronk spike, which whipped the capacity crowd into a frenzy.
“I was just a little juiced up at that moment,” a beaming Gronkowski said after practice. “I didn’t even notice what I did.”
He added: “That’s football. Just when you’re feeling good, when you’re out there making plays, you just want to have fun. That’s the whole game of football. Have fun out there, enjoy it and have competition.”
Gronkowski declared last month he was “100 percent” recovered from his season-ending injury, and that certainly appeared to be the case on Day 1 of camp. Patriots coach Bill Belichick echoed that diagnosis Thursday, saying Gronkowski “doesn’t have any limits that I know of.”
“That was all pretty much over with by the start of the offseason program,” Belichick said. “So he’s been trying to keep up with everybody else. We’ll see how it goes.”
A hard hit from Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas last November cut short what had been a wildly productive season for Gronkowski. The four-time All-Pro attempted to play through the injury two weeks later but lasted just a few snaps and ultimately was placed on injured reserve Dec. 3.
Having been forced to watch the Patriots’ latest Super Bowl run from the sideline, Gronkowski understandably couldn’t wait to report for training camp.
“I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now, for sure,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward just to get back to football. I had a longer vacation than a lot of the guys, so I was probably the most eager to get going.”
Thursday’s practice did not feature full contact, as players donned helmets and shells rather than full pads. Though he doesn’t mind practicing in shorts, Gronkowski is eagerly anticipating the real hitting that will commence later this week.
“I always want to take hits,” he said. “When we put those pads on, I’m going to definitely be ready. I’m going to be ready to take hits, and I’m going to be ready to play ball.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images