FOXBOROUGH — Saying he didn’t want to answer questions all week about his status, Rob Gronkowski stood in front of his locker Monday morning and said seven words Patriots fans have longed to hear:
“I’m ready to go. I’ll be playing.”
The tight end underwent ACL reconstruction after tearing the ligament in his right knee last December against the Browns. Though it appeared Gronkowski’s recovery had him on track to play Sunday, he eliminated all doubt with his announcement.
“I’m just getting it out of the way,” he told reporters, when asked why he took the rather un-Patriots-like approach of being so transparent. “I ain’t going every single day this week, no way. Getting it out of the way now.”
Gronkowski gave his trademark, high-pitched, “Ha!” when told he was the one to break the news that he will be in uniform when New England opens the season against the Dolphins in Miami.
He was excited to be able to announce that he had met his goal.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s really a lot of hard work and dedication from Day 1, and the dedication and hard work isn’t stopping. Every single day is a grind and it was for sure, no doubt about it.
“You have to wake up and be there for rehab, but seeing my boys grind every single day, my teammates working hard, it made me want to work hard, made me want to get back out here, talking to the quarterbacks, talking to the receivers.
“So just basically it feels good to be out here this week, preparing for the Dolphins, knowing that I’ve put myself in the best situation the last few weeks, few months, to get back out here, and that was my plan the whole time, to work as hard as I could so I’d be ready for this week.”
The 25-year-old has been eased into things over the offseason. During spring organized team activities, the media saw him working only with the rehab and conditioning group, never in team drills, even though those are in shells and are non-contact.
When training camp began in July, he was moved forward deliberately, from taking part in skeleton passing drills to running in pads, to working one-on-one against Darrelle Revis as Tom Brady threw to him, to finally getting on the field in full-pads seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work.
“Everything’s been going well,” he said. “There’s been no setbacks.”
In two years, Gronkowski underwent seven surgeries for various ailments, from his right ankle, with badly damaged tendons in the 2011 AFC Championship game, to his left forearm, a nightmare situation that saw him break, then re-break the arm, then require a procedure to clean up an infection, then finally a last surgery to replace the metal plate that reinforces his bone, to a discectomy on his back, to the knee reconstruction.
For a player who was once rocketing toward superstardom and even being discussed as possibly the greatest player ever at his position just two years into his career, the last 30 months have given Gronkowski pause.
“I’m humbled to the max,” he said. “The only thing I can do is work hard every single day and come in, be quiet, listen to the coaches, listen to the training staff, and try to get to where I was before, from the beginning.”
Preternaturally upbeat — Brady is fond of saying he doesn’t think the 6-foot-6-inch western New York native ever has had a bad day in his life — Gronkowski was asked if there ever was a day when he wondered whether the injuries would end.
“Definitely — when it happened against the Browns,” he said, referring to the T.J. Ward blow to the outside of his left knee that left him crumpled on the Gillette Stadium turf, early in the seventh game of his return from the arm and back surgeries.
He has leaned on his teammates, the training staff, strength and conditioning staff, but he also acknowledges his family — his father, Gordon, his mother, Diane, and his four brothers.
“They’ve been there throughout,” said Gronkowski. “From the very beginning.”
He had as much of his favorite dish, Diane’s chicken soufflé, as he could get, and her “bomb” Buffalo chicken dip helped the recovery as well.
Gronkowski affirmed that he won’t play every snap Sunday, but he believes he can be effective in whatever role he’s asked to play.
And in the most Gronk-like fashion, he also declared that he has no plans to shy away from contact. Unless, of course, half the defense is trying to take him down.
“I’ll be playing just like how I always play,” he said. “So, I mean, if there’s five guys coming at me, I’m on the sideline, I’m probably not going to take out all five of the guys. I’ll go out of bounds maybe there, but other than that, I’ll be playing just how I always play.”