Gronkowski impresses in return to practice field

(Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBOROUGH — When it doubt, throw it to the tight end.

The Patriots offense might be a myriad of complex schemes and looks capable of giving opposing defensive coordinators an ice-cream headache. But when the rubber hits the road, sometimes, it’s just that simple: [Bleep] it. Where’s Gronk?

And on the first day of training camp Thursday, for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, despite the fact that the tight end had been out of the mix since last November, it was the same as it ever was. When Brady found himself under pressure, when the defense was closing in, he looked for Gronkowski. On several occasions, the tight end was on the receiving end of Brady’s passes. And more often than not, those were punctuated by Gronk dances, spikes, and whatever other sort of celebration struck his fancy. Yo soy fiesta, indeed.

Even with the high-stepping, you could forgive the big fella if he was enjoying himself a little too much. After all, Thursday represented the closest he had gotten to real football since he went down in a heap in a November win over the Jets in North Jersey.

“I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now, sure," Gronkowski said of Thursday’s session. "I’ve been looking forward to just getting back to football. I’ve definitely had a longer vacation than a lot of the guys. So I would say I was probably the most eager to get going, get rolling.”

Bill Belichick said prior to Thursday’s practice session that Gronkowski “doesn’t have any limits that I know of,” and that much was clear throughout the session. He took his usual reps with the No. 1 offense throughout the morning, and certainly didn’t look like a guy who had spent the offseason rehabbing after back surgery. Instead, he was whooping it up with the fans: he got the second-biggest cheer when he hit the top step on the way out to practice (Brady was far and away No. 1), and he even took some time to acknowledge a female fan with a “Future Mrs. Gronkowski” sign.

"It’s football," he said. "Have fun out there, enjoy it."

He certainly looked pleased, but for those who might be curious as to his real physical and mental state, one thing that could be working in Gronkowski’s favor is the fact that he’s been through the offseason rehab grind before. The tight end has done extensive work with trainer Pete Bommarito in South Florida in the past. While he didn’t rehab with Bommarito this time around, his past experience with Gronkowski indicated there’s reason for optimism the tight end can be his old self again in 2017.

“He’s as consistent as they come. What I do know about Rob is that he takes rehab very seriously,” Bommarito said of the tight end. “If there’s anybody we can expect to come back at 100 percent, based on his track record, it’s him.

“I know his mental state and professional approach, and his attention to detail and his work ethic. Rehab is just as much of a mental grind as a physical grind. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of work. He’s extremely serious about it. I didn’t rehab him this time around, but I don’t expect his past mentality to change.”

In the end, it was a good opening act for Gronkowski. But the pads go on Saturday. That’s when the real hitting starts. Until then, he'll will be content to wait it out.

This time around, he’s OK with that.

“I mean, I don’t mind the first two days without pads -- I’m not going to lie," he said. "You want to get [acclimated] to football, to the movements and everything. You want to get your body back to it. It’s been awhile since we’ve been having competition like that. First two days without pads is cool, but after that you’re always ready to roll.

“I always want to take hits. When we put those pads on, I’m going to definitely be ready,” he added. I am going to be ready to take hits. Ready to play ball.”