FOXBORO -- When Rob Gronkowski got his first opportunity to cut off of his surgically-repaired right knee Thursday, it was a sharp and definitive move. There was no defender in front of him -- just a stationary tackling dummy in the middle of the field -- but he stuck his right foot in the ground around the 10 yard line and rumbled into the back corner of the end zone.
He reached up and hauled in the touchdown pass with relative ease, looking much like the player who has caught 42 scores in 50 career games.
That kind of drill work was just about all anyone saw of Gronkowski during New England's first day of training camp practice. He was limited to running routes strictly on air and did not participate in any of the 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work done during the second half of the session.
Perhaps to make up for missed reps, quarterback Tom Brady and Gronkowski spent a few minutes running through the route tree while the majority of their teammates ambled off the field and toward the locker room.
Though Gronkowski didn't get any looks against the defense, his teammates -- and particularly his quarterback -- were happy to have him back.
“When you have great players like that on the field, it helps you a lot. Your margin for error goes up,” Brady said. “But you have to prepare for both. I don’t think the expectations have changed. You still have to go out and execute the play the best way you know how to and try to do it at a high level on a really consistent basis.”
Gronkowski worked in with the rest of the tight end group in drills, but he also participated in a side session that included only Brady, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins. Under the watchful eye of tight ends coach Brian Daboll, Brady essentially ran the session as he worked with his top receivers on their routes near the goal line. Gronkowski continued to show that he could cut off his right leg, and he left his feet to catch passes from time to time as well.
Giving him as many practice reps as possible will be key in getting Gronnkowski up to speed before he becomes a full participant. Clearly, given the specialized work in practice and afterward, Brady's willing to put in the time if it's going to help his big tight end in the long run.
“I’m excited to be out here with my teammates and working to get better,” Brady said. “It’s a long training camp. It’s going to be a lot of effort and a lot of work. There is no easy way about it. You just have to grind and put the work in and listen to the coaches, try to make the improvements. Hopefully when we start the season, we’ll be a lot better team than we are now.”