FOXBOROUGH — Throughout training camp, it was not unusual to see Rob Gronkowski, wearing a Patriots T-shirt and team-issued shorts, stroll onto the practice field about an hour into a practice to watch his teammates at work.
On the physically unable to perform list after back surgery in June, Gronkowski was doing rehab work with the strength and conditioning staff, but Monday was the first time the tight end did any of that work in view of the media. As the team practiced on the upper fields, Gronkowski was on the lower field, running forward and backward and shuffling between cones, catching footballs.
Asked on Tuesday how Gronkowski is looking as he recovers from his back procedure, the most recent of five surgeries he’s undergone since November — the first four were on his left forearm — Bill Belichick got a little testy.
“He’s been out there every day. He’s been in camp the whole — he hasn’t missed a day of camp,” the Patriots coach said.
Although that is true, Gronkowski has not been participating at the same level as most of his teammates. But without giving any indication of how Gronkowski was progressing, Belichick repeated that what reporters saw the All-Pro doing Monday is part of the same routine he’s done for weeks.
“He was out here the first day of camp. He’s been doing the same thing every day,” Belichick said.
How has he looked recently?
“He’s been doing the same thing every day . . . For those of us who have been here, it’s been the same thing every day.”
Robert Kraft, speaking before the Patriots Premiere event, didn’t give an indication of when Gronkowski will return, but he knows the player is moving toward that goal.
“I was actually working out downstairs [in the team facility] and he happened to be the only person in the training room and he’s working very hard,” Kraft said. “I’m optimistic that he’ll come back and be a great contributor.”
New England must decide by 6 p.m. Saturday whether to move Gronkowski from the active/PUP list to the reserve/PUP list, thereby keeping him on the shelf for the first six weeks of the regular season, or putting him on the 53-man roster in anticipation of the 24-year-old being ready to play sooner.
“Every decision we make on a player comes down to two things really: what’s best for the player and what’s best for the team,” Belichick said. “When those are the same, it’s easy. When they’re not, something has to give and you have to make a call one way or the other. That’s the way it is with everything.”
Asked about potentially holding a roster spot for a player who won’t be on the field for a couple of weeks, Belichick said every situation is different.
“It depends on the situation, it depends on what your other options are, what the injury is, how long you’re talking about, what the expectations are, what kind of depth you have at that position,” Belichick said.
While Gronkowski did look smooth in that change-of-direction work, he still looks as though he needs to gain a few pounds of muscle.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Gronkowski was not spotted during the media access window on Tuesday. He was the only player not in uniform for the full-pads practice.
Though he projects to be the third-string quarterback if he remains on the roster, there continues to be a great deal of discussion about the status of Tim Tebow.
Tebow has a fan in Kraft, but the owner deferred to Belichick on the decision of whether he’ll stay.
“I know week to week you’re going to be asking the questions if we don’t perform up to standard why we didn’t,” Kraft said. “I think you want to make sure you have the 53 best people to help us win games during this year. I’m rooting for him and I’m in his corner, but I have the privilege of letting Bill make those decisions.
“He’s got a pretty good record.”
Kraft reiterated his belief that Tebow is “a very special young man” and “he’s been a real joy to have around here.” However, he also made sure to mention his team’s other quarterbacks.
“We’re also privileged to have Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett, so I like our position. If you look around the league and see what’s happening, and with two of the teams in our division [Buffalo and the Jets], I just give thanks for the position we’re in.”
The Patriots made four roster moves, adding one player and waiving three to get down to the league-mandated 75 players.
They claimed rookie defensive tackle Gilbert Pena off waivers from the Packers, and released tight end Evan Landi, offensive lineman Brice Schwab, and DL Anthony Rashad White.
Schwab and White were waived/injured; if they go unclaimed, they could revert to the Patriots injured reserve, or the team will come to an injury settlement with the players, as has happened on a couple of occasions this summer.
Pena has an interesting backstory: a standout high school player in Yonkers, N.Y., he put off college to work and help his ailing mother pay bills. He accepted a scholarship to a junior college in Brooklyn at 23, and played so well there he got a scholarship to Ole Miss.
Listed at 6-2, 330 pounds, Pena could provide depth.
Cocaptain Matthew Slater was the 11th recipient of the Ron Burton Community Service Award. Slater, a Pro Bowl special teamer, joins recent winners Zoltan Mesko (2012), Jerod Mayo (2011), and Vince Wilfork (2010) among the honorees . . . Kraft was asked about the grievance the NFL Players’ Association filed against his team on Monday on behalf of Aaron Hernandez and the $82,000 workout bonus payment the team has not made to Hernandez for participating in the offseason workout program. “It’s simple,” Kraft said. “Look at our history. We honor our contracts and we expect the people who sign them to honor their part of the contract.” . . . Patriots rookies received their creative haircuts from veterans on Tuesday, just in time for the Premiere. Aaron Dobson covered his with a wide-brimmed hat in the locker room . . . Reminder: under the NFL’s new policy, all bags brought to Thursday’s game at Gillette Stadium (and every game going forward) must be clear plastic and no larger than 12 x 12 x 6 inches. One-gallon clear freezer bags are allowed, as are women’s clutches/wristlets no bigger than 7 x 4 inches — those do not have to be see-through. League-approved bags will be sold in the Gillette Stadium parking lots prior to the game. For more information, visit nfl.com/allclear.