FOXBOROUGH — Rob Gronkowski took another step in his recovery from a torn ACL, taking part in full-pads 11-on-11 work Monday.
And unlike last Monday, when he marked another return milestone by participating in seven-on-seven periods, the big tight end was not wearing a red non-contact jersey, just the standard white jersey all offensive players not named Brady, Mallett, or Garoppolo wear.
True to form, Gronkowski clearly was excited by the newest development.
“It felt good. I wasn’t like full, full contact or anything like that. It was just little routes and that kind of stuff. But I’m feeling good,” he said. “Progressed a lot out there. Overall, it just feels good to be back out there with my teammates and competing.”
He said it was “definitely” a step forward.
“Probably tomorrow, I’ll pick it up even more. It’s going well so far — no setbacks or anything. Just having a blast being back out there, having fun catching some balls and making some plays,” he said.
Gronkowski was quickly targeted by Tom Brady in seven-on-seven work, though rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler stripped him of the ball on one catch. In the last 11-on-11 period of the afternoon, Brady looked his way twice.
Though Gronkowski and Brady (often with soft defense provided by Darrelle Revis) have gotten a lot of one-on-one work together in camp, being on the field with defenders and going at a faster speed are important as the two work toward Gronkowski’s full-time return.
“It’s huge. You can’t just jump into 11-on-11 action,” Gronkowski said. “You’ve got to do one-on-ones, get your body acclimated. Get your legs underneath you all before that. That’s why it’s good to do everything I was doing leading up to it so when I went out there today I felt like I was prepared and I felt like I was ready to go.
“It’s definitely huge to get going and be on the same page with the quarterback. Not just the quarterback — you want to be on the same page with the wide receivers, be on different levels on the routes. Just be on the same page with the offense as a whole.
“I’ve been working with Tom since I’ve been out here, but we haven’t been doing it against the defense or anything. So it was good to be out there and boom, just like we never missed before. He hit me — I think we had a couple of passes thrown to me for catches in 11-on-11, so that was good.”
The next steps, the 25-year old said, are more reps and some blocking. But that may not happen in either of the remaining preseason games.
“I got a little bit of [being hit] today — not like tackling or anything. Definitely anxious,” he said. “Just have to keep progressing and listen to the training staff and do what they want me to do so I can get there.”
While it’s possible the Patriots are targeting Week 1 for Gronkowski’s return, ProFootballTalk reported last week there was only a 50-50 chance the tight end would face the Dolphins on Sept. 7.
But Gronkowski declared he is still focused on playing all 16 regular-season games.
“We’re all on the same page and we’re all doing a great job with it,” he said. “I’m feeling good out there — getting in shape, catching balls and just preparing myself the best I can right now.”