FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski starting the regular season on New England's practice field instead of PUP is a good sign. It's just hard to tell how good.
When pressed about the possibility of playing in Sunday's opener against Buffalo, the tight end shrugged: "I'm preparing every single day to the max of my ability. Preparing every day to the best I can. When my number's called, that's when I'll play. Couldn't tell you when that will be."
It's been 11 weeks since Gronkowski underwent surgery on his back. The procedure kept him out of offseason workouts and all of training camp.
"Right now, we just take it day-by-day. I'm improving a lot, been improving since last week, been improving since three weeks ago. The only thing I can ask out of myself -- the coaches ask out of me, the trainers ask out of me -- is just to take it every day at a time and just improve every day, focus every day on getting better."
Despite all the specific timeline questions he dodged, Gronkowski truly seemed thrilled to talk about practicing.
"It's just fun being back out there, putting the pads on," he grinned. "Just having them on makes me happy again. I love this game. I've definitely missed the game of football, just going out there and practicing with my teammates. I've missed doing the grind with my teammates, I've missed being out there with the coaches -- everything. It's just awesome to be back out there with the team and focusing on getting things done."
Gronkowski chose not to delve into what recovery has been like.
"It was difficult, but I'm past that all. Today's a new day and all I can do is move forward. I'm not thinking about the past anymore. It's all in the past. The only thing I can do is improve."
The gym buff did, however, admit being limited in offseason training was frustrating. It's just that he doesn't see a point in dwelling. Gronkowski said he hasn't experienced one single setback in recovering from back surgery. He's taking full advantage of the Patriots rehab program to get back in football shape.
"I want the full body [to be] strong. Just got to keep on grinding and keep working on all aspects of the body to get back out there. And it's not just the forearm and back. When you take off like that you've got to get conditioned again, you've got to get stronger throughout your whole body -- your legs, your upper body, your arms. That's what takes the hard work, the dedication, the conditioning."