The dominating storyline coming out of Foxboro after the New England Patriots opened their mandatory minicamp yesterday was the return of the team's two best players: Quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski were back on the practice fields after sitting out the team's voluntary offseason program. As expected, both future Hall of Famers looked like their usual selves during the two-hour session.
When the practice was over, Gronkowski addressed the media and spoke about his approach to the offseason. “I just wanted to see where I was at,” the 29-year old said when asked about his mindset after the 2017 campaign. “I was having all different thoughts. Do I need to see where my body was at and everything? To see if I really wanted to go through it again. To see if I could go through it again.”
“Obviously after long seasons – they’re hauling seasons, long-hauling seasons – it definitely was in the mind,” Gronkowski replied when asked about retirement. “But I had to do what I had to do. I felt where I felt good enough, get my body prepared, get my body right again, see where my body was at, see where my mind was at and I'm glad to be back out here.”
Gronkowski made it clear that he wanted to continue his career in April when he put an end to any speculation and officially confirmed that he would not hang up his cleats just yet and instead be back for a ninth season in the NFL. “I feel like I definitely made the right decision coming back out,” he told reporters yesterday.
In order to ensure that continuing his career was indeed the right decision for him and the team as well, Gronkowski – just like Tom Brady – opted to stay away from New England's voluntary workout program. While this approach added to the rumors that not all was well within the Patriots organization, Gronkowski simply felt it was the right thing to do.
“Just was training on my own,” he answered when asked what went into the decision to sit out the voluntary portions of this year's offseason. “Just felt like that was the best thing for me and I wanted to take care of my body and take care of myself and see where I was at before I came out here. It went good. I think it was a good decision.”
Judged by his first on-field action since the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl 52, it was. Gronkowski, as noted above, looked like the player he has been ever since getting selected by the Patriots in the second round of the 2010 draft. And while practice – especially in June – always has to be taken with a grain of salt, it was still encouraging to see the best tight end of his generation back on the field.
Gronkowski seemed to agree: “It was great. I feel good,” he said of his first full-team action this offseason. “A lot of excitement obviously. Obviously had some jitters coming in too, because first time when it’s been awhile you get the jitters going out there. You just don’t know. It’s football. You’ve got to compete. You’re competing versus really good players every time you step out on the field.”
“It felt good,” Gronkowski continued before later adding: “I missed being with the guys.” At least for now, the veteran is back with his teammates. And even if he chooses to stay away from next week's voluntary organized team activities, Gronkowski has officially made his presence felt as a member of the 2018 Patriots. If it was a sign of things to come, New England can again expect big things out of its big tight end.