We've known for nearly a month now that Rob Gronkowski isn't at full strength. Today, he acknowledged as much.
During the first joint practice against Chicago last month, the All-Pro tight end jumped in the air for a pass and yelled out in pain as he came to the ground. His body language at the time displayed all the hallmarks of someone who'd just suffered a hamstring injury, but we didn't receive official confirmation of that until yesterday, when the Patriots distributed their first injury report of the 2016 season. Gronkowski was limited in yesterday's session, as he seemingly has been for several weeks now.
The veteran and newly-elected co-captain candidly admitted Thursday that he's not 100-percent healthy and would not commit to being a guarantee to take the field for the season opener Sunday night in Arizona. In fact, it sounds like his availability will be a game-time decision.
"I've just been week to week with a little hammy thing, but I'm feeling good. Feeling better every day," he remarked. "It's always super exciting just to get back out on the field, start competing again. First game, the opener down in Arizona, Sunday Night Football, can't ask for a better crowd.
"It boils down to a coach's decision, the medical team and myself. We'll all get together, collaborate and see where I'm at… I want to be out there so bad. Especially to help out the team. It's super big, and I'm just doing the best I can."
Gronkowski did not appear in any preseason games, which isn't necessarily an indication of how severe his injury is because he routinely is held out of the summertime exhibition contests. However, his comments today certainly sound as if his limited activity in recent practices is more than just a precautionary measure. In all likelihood, Gronkowski will be listed as at least Questionable when the official game status report is made public on Friday.
Meanwhile, Gronk is uplifted by this week's results of voting for Patriots co-captains. For the first time in his pro career, he's been elected by his teammates to serve in the coveted leadership position.
"It's definitely an honor to be recognized at that level," added Gronkowski, "an honor to have so many great guys teammates around us in this locker room. Just have to keep doing what I'm doing. Keep on going hard, keep on practicing hard, showing the young guys the right way."
He smiled and tried to be diplomatic when someone asked if he had any idea that he'd be a leading candidate for a captainship. But as he tried to respond, a teammate shouted over the crowd of reporters in front of Gronkowski's locker, "Hey Robert, we love you!"
The perfectly-timed proclamation drew laughter from those in earshot before Gronkowski continued his thought.
"It comes with the territory, just being around here a few years now. Going into my seventh year, seeing how everything goes. I'm proud to be in this position and to have all my teammates looking up to me."
On another personal note, Gronkowski was thrilled to discuss his younger brother Glenn's having earned a spot on the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster, making him the fourth of the five Gronkowski brothers to earn an NFL job.
"It's unbelievable, I mean, that's my family, my little brother," gushed Gronk. "Growing up, watching him play, it's unbelievable recognition for him to make the Bills roster. It makes me super proud as an older brother. I saw my older brothers go through it, but to see my younger brother now follow in our footsteps, I'm super proud, cheering him on."
In the Rowe-tation?
After Thursday's practice, defensive back Eric Rowe greeted reporters for the first time since being traded to the Patriots from Philadelphia. Rowe has experience as both a safety and a cornerback, but the 6-1, 205-pounder declared himself the latter, at least for the time being. He also admitted to feeling a bit star-struck around the dynastic Patriots organization.
"I'm excited to get on the field, and get on the field and play. You've got to get over the wow factor, kind of put in the work to help the franchise continue to be great," Rowe explained. "I had that for the first day, but once you're here practicing, you're like, 'OK, they brought me here for a reason, so I have to get a job done.'"
Considering he's only been in town for two days, might that job involve an appearance in the opener Sunday night against the Cardinals?
"Right now, I'm not sure, because Coach is still helping me on the defense," replied Rowe. "There were a couple calls today, I didn't have any idea what it was. I had to ask. Right now I'm really just taking this day by day. I'll see what the coaches tell me whenever that game day comes up."
For the third straight practice, the Patriots enjoyed perfect attendance. All 53 members of the active roster, plus the 10 practice squad players, took part at least on a limited basis.
Following Thursday's session, the players in the travel party began packing up their equipment in advance of tomorrow's scheduled flight to Phoenix. The team will conduct meetings and a walkthrough-type practice Friday morning before departing in the afternoon.
New England normally leaves just one day prior to a game, but because this contest is being played so far out west, head coach Bill Belichick decided to leave a day earlier to help the players adjust to the three-hour time zone difference.