Tight end Rob Gronkowski has almost become a forgotten member of the Patriots as he rehabs from back surgery and sits out training camp. He has attended practices most days in street clothes, but the Patriots won’t make him available to the media until he comes off the physically unable to perform list, which could be any time in training camp (highly doubtful), before Week 1 (possible), or after missing six regular-season games, by rule (more likely).
How is Gronkowski doing in his rehab, and when will he be back on the field? We won’t hear anything from him, or the Patriots, but his recently released book, “Growing Up Gronk” with Jeff Schober, gives us a pretty good idea of what he’s going through right now and when he could return.
Gronkowski had surgery to repair a herniated disk June 18, performed by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles. It’s the same surgery he had in September 2009 when he was at the University of Arizona, also performed by Watkins. Given that, it’s safe to assume that the rehab procedure this time is similar to the one he went through almost four years ago. This Tuesday will mark exactly seven weeks since Gronk’s surgery.
Here’s what we know about his first surgery and rehab in 2009:
When he first got out of surgery, “he felt like an anchor was strapped to his back,” Schober wrote. “Movements were limited and tentative. A sudden shift drew sharp daggers raking against his spine.”
“His body needed to remain straight and avoid sideways movements for six weeks afterward.”
“I just chilled for a month and a half, sitting on the couch,” Gronkowski said. “That’s basically all you can do.”
“Once you have back surgery, you have to lay off,” said his father, Gordy Gronkowski. “You need to stay still for three weeks. You can walk, but never bend. You can’t turn. You get out of bed a certain way.”
Gronk’s oldest brother, Gordie, also suffered a herniated disk while playing baseball at Jacksonville University. But the strength coaches there put him back in the weight room too soon, and his back problems persisted for several more years.
“This idiot put him on weights right away,” said the father. “You don’t strengthen a disk. It’s not a muscle. You got to let the damn thing heal totally and then work on core strength. Stretch the hamstrings. This guy had him doing stupid things that didn’t help.”
After being holed up for a month and a half, Rob finally was able to do back and core exercises, which “helped minimize the setbacks and flare-ups,” Schober wrote.
One troubling aspect — Gronkowski was not fully healed to participate at the NFL Combine, which occurred at the end of February, five months after his surgery.
Finally, on March 27, Gronk and his brother, Chris, held their own Pro Day on Arizona’s campus.
“We killed it that day,” Chris said. “We caught every pass and ran so hard we were about to throw up. We really got after it. Rob had on his blocking pads and I ran at him at full speed, then we switched. I was trying to drill him as hard as I could.”
The Patriots’ first game of the regular season is Sept. 8, two days less than 12 full weeks out of surgery. While it is possible that Gronkowski could return for Week 1, the likeliest and most prudent course of action appears to be keeping him on PUP to start the season and having him miss the first six games, especially considering the four forearm surgeries he also has endured over the past year.
The Patriots need Gronkowski at the end of the season, and for years to come, more than they need him early in the 2013 season. And the last thing they want to do is put him back on the field too soon and have him suffer another injury, to his back or otherwise.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.