FOXBOROUGH — Yes, Rob Gronkowski is getting better every day, and yes, he hopes to play when the Patriots open the regular season on Sept. 7.
“My plan is obviously to be in the ballpark when it comes time,” Gronkowski said after Sunday’s practice, adding that he and the training staff have not yet established a schedule for his return to full contact.
“That’s a while away — Week 1,” he added. “About a month away. Right now [I’m] just making sure I take one step at a time — can’t really think ahead. Just got to make sure I do what I do right now, so when the time comes I’m ready to go.”
Gronkowski, a 6-foot-6 inch, 265-pound tight end, missed all but seven games last season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee on Dec. 8. He still hasn’t participated in contact drills in training camp, but he said he’s getting closer.
“[I’m] improving every week so far: No setbacks, or anything like that,” Gronkowski said. “Feeling better every single time we’re out on the field.”
“I’ve probably said that 20 times already,” he said later, laughing.
Gronkowski — who has caught 42 touchdowns from Tom Brady, the most of any player from the quarterback — didn’t travel to Richmond last week for New England’s joint practices and first preseason game against the Washington Redskins.
“Just listened to the trainers, stayed back,” he said of the down time. “Just working out and stuff, getting in shape. Basically went hard during practice all last week. Just a little time off to let the knee heal a little bit more, you know? Can’t always be grinding on it 24/7 coming off an injury.”
He said that the injury hasn’t limited the effort he gives during drills — on Sunday, and during most other training camp sessions, he worked one-on-one with Brady — only the types of drills he can complete.
“I’m not out here running routes or anything at 80 percent,” Gronkowski said. “I’m going full speed in the drills I’m doing, but they’re just limiting the drills I can do from the contact.”
One day, he hopes soon, Gronkowski will rejoin his teammates in a scrimmage or game.
For now? He’ll keep getting better every day. Or better.
“Getting better every second,” he said as he walked off the field. “Taking it a second at a time now.”
TE comings, goings
Hoping to improve their depth behind three tight ends battling injury — Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui (leg), and D.J. Williams (leg) — the Patriots waived two rookie tight ends and signed three.
Gone are rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson — both of whom did little to exploit an opportunity to impress the coaching staff as the only healthy tight ends to play Thursday night’s preseason game against the Redskins.
“We’re looking for guys that are improving, and kind of when they stop making improvement, then sometimes you feel like you’ve got to move on,” coach Bill Belichick said after practice. “We signed three players that we feel like will be competitive, but we’ll see.”
They are: Ben Hartsock, a 10-year veteran; Steve Maneri, who spent 2010 on the Patriots’ practice squad; and Terrence Miller, a rookie free agent out of the University of Arizona.
Former Patriots safety Steve Gregory announced his retirement Saturday, ending an eight-year career. Two of them — 2012 and 2013 — were with New England, when the 5-foot-11 inch, 200-pounder played in 26 games and had three interceptions. “Steve Gregory was a true professional and a pleasure to coach. He was one of the most well-liked and respected players, because everything he did was the right way, with a great attitude and in the best interests of the team,” Belichick said in a statement . . . The Patriots will practice Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week in their last sessions open to the public. They will host joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles Tuesday and Wednesday before playing them Friday night.Rob Harms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @harms__way.