FOXBOROUGH — Just as he said he would be, Rob Gronkowski has been in full pads with the rest of his Patriots teammates.
Gronkowski may be padded, but he is nowhere close to getting hit. Over the first five training camp practices, the last three in pads, Gronkowski has been participating in non-contact drills, but is taken out of the action during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.
During some special-teams sessions, he and Tom Brady head to the other field and work together on routes, sometimes in the red zone. On Tuesday, cornerback Darrelle Revis joined them, “covering” Gronkowski in the most harmless way possible, clearly trying to avoid making contact with the tight end — who has seven inches and 67 pounds on him — at all costs.
But Gronkowski knows that just being in full gear has its benefits.
“You have to be well-conditioned with the pads on, it’s so much different running around,” he said. “Having all the equipment on, it adds a couple of extra pounds on your body and you’re not used to that all season, so that’s what training camp’s for, getting used to everything again, getting conditioned and getting your body ready for the long haul and the season.”
The long haul is just what everyone involved, from Gronkowski to the Patriots to fans, are hoping for from the fifth-year player after a difficult couple of years in which he has undergone no fewer than six surgeries, on his left forearm, back, and right knee.
So for now, most of his work is done to the side.
“The side work’s going good. Getting used to everything I can do, getting in conditioning, which is my number one factor right now, that’s what I can work on to the max, that’s what I’m going to be working on to the max,” Gronkowski said. “Running around, getting my body used to everything, and just working individual, listening to my coaches, getting individual routes down, getting individual blocking down, to the best of my ability that I can.”
It would be a surprise to see Gronkowski play in any of New England’s preseason games, though taking a hit and seeing how he responds to it mentally is likely one of the final steps of his recovery.
Gronkowski said he expects to take a hit before Week 1; it probably will be on the practice field, but he is preparing for it.
It might seem like a slow road, but the best news is that Gronkowski hasn’t hit any bumps along the way.
“I feel like I’ve been making a lot of improvement week to week. No setbacks, just every single week doing more, running more, putting more pressure on my leg, so it’s coming along well,” he said.
Front and center
Ryan Wendell was groomed to become the Patriots’ starting center for several years, and when he finally moved into the role full-time in 2012, he never came off the field, sitting out just six offensive snaps all season.
His play dipped a bit last year, and now Wendell, who prepared for the job for four years, finds himself in a battle with rookie Bryan Stork .
But the soft-spoken Wendell is offering advice to the young man he’s competing with, as others did for him when he came to New England as an undrafted rookie in 2008.
“I just do what the older guys did when I got here did for me,” he said. “Guys like Dan Koppen, Steve Neal, Russ Hochstein, Logan Mankins when I got here. All those guys, they helped me so much by telling me what was expected of an offensive lineman at the New England Patriots, and I try to do the same thing for Bryan.
“And he helps me because he’s got eyes on me too. We just try to give each other as much feedback as we can.”
Stork was the first of three picks the Patriots made in the fourth round this year. The 6-foot-4-inch, 310-pounder was the center on Florida State’s national championship team, blocking for Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, winning the Rimington Trophy as college football’s top center, and was named to several All-America teams.
In other words, he comes into the NFL with a more impressive résumé than Wendell did.
But Wendell is proof positive that in New England, what you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter; what you do as a member of the Patriots does.
“Both of us are just trying to do our jobs the best we can,” Wendell said. “I think he’s going to approach it the same way I approached it when there were other guys in the position, which is you come and you do your job every day.
“We’re all on the same team until somebody tells us we’re not.”
The Patriots claimed rookie running back Tyler Gaffney off waivers from the Panthers on Monday, once again ruffling feathers in the process.
A sixth-round pick, Gaffney tore his meniscus Friday, and rather than just going with 89 players on the roster and moving him to injured reserve at the end of the preseason, the Panthers exposed him to waivers, believing that he would clear since teams knew he was injured, and then revert to their IR.
But New England claimed him, and Gaffney will spend the season on the Patriots’ injured reserve.
“Tyler had a real good year last year,” Belichick said. “Went to Stanford and then was in baseball for a year and had a big year last year. I think he’s a good all-around back that we want to work with. He was available, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
Gaffney had 21 rushing touchdowns last fall for the Cardinal.
Belichick and the Patriots pulled the same move in 2012, claiming tight end Jake Ballard when the Giants waived him during camp. The Giants’ brass was miffed, but Belichick has said in the past that if you don’t want to lose a player, you shouldn’t place him on waivers at this time of year.
Old home week
Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was among the visitors to camp on Tuesday. Now the coach at Kansas, Weis looked as if he’s shed some weight, but was walking with a limp. After practice he spent some time chatting with Brady and current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels . . . Koppen was also on hand, and looking trim. He will be working as a volunteer assistant coach at Bishop Hendricken in Warwick, R.I., this fall.