FOXBOROUGH — Mother Nature was no match on Sunday morning for the force of nature that is Rob Gronkowski.
Despite a steady rain that included a few downpours during Day 4 of Patriots training camp, Gronkowski once again stole the show — something the tight end has so often done during his remarkable seven-year run in New England.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pounder was energetic from the get-go (no word on if scrambled eggs were on his breakfast table) and for the second straight day was smack dab in the middle of the session’s top plays.
Gronkowski put on a great show for the fans, but also for his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who was at practice. Rosenhaus and his brother, Jason, even got some face time with coach Bill Belichick near the end of practice.
The NFL Network reported the agents were in town to negotiate a new deal for Gronkowski. The four-time Pro Bowl selection signed an eight-year, $55.23 million pact in 2012. Currently Gronkowski, at $9 million, ranks behind Jimmy Graham, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, and Julius Thomas in terms of per-season salary among NFL tight ends, according to spotrac.com.
Working on 11-on-11s in the red area, Gronkowski leaped over safety Patrick Chung to make a catch in the end zone on a pass from Tom Brady. In his exuberance, Gronkowski spiked the ball, which skidded into a tent full of fans, much to the delight of the occupants, who roared their approval.
Two plays later, Gronkowski was at it again. Despite tight coverage from Devin McCourty, he made a back-shoulder, end-zone grab of another Brady toss. This time Gronkowski flung the ball in the air and high-fived the fans in the tent before celebrating with teammates.
“Well, after that first play I accidentally threw the ball and I wasn’t sure if I hit someone or not, but I didn’t. It was all good,’’ said Gronkowski, when asked why he decided to interact with the fans. “So then the next time I scored right there I just ran by, saw them all cheering, so I was like, ‘Why not go and high-five them?’ So they were all excited. It’s cool to get the crowd involved, get the energy up.’’
Though Gronkowski’s excitement was obvious on his own TDs, he took it to another level a few plays later when running mate, Martellus Bennett grabbed an impressive scoring strike from Jimmy Garoppolo. A helmet-less Gronkowski stormed into the end zone and jumped up for a shoulder bump with Bennett.
“I was super excited to see him go out there,’’ said Gronkowski. “I made a couple big catches and he went, made a big catch, so it’s great to see that — other players out there making big plays. And it’s all about a team coming together and celebrating together after. It was super cool. It’s awesome to see things like that.’’
Earlier in the practice, Gronkowski had his way with several defensive backs during drills, and after one catch near the sideline he softly crashed into the advertisement boards along the fence like a hockey defenseman pinning a winger behind the net.
The Patriots’ receiving corps took another hit when Chris Hogan suffered an apparent shoulder injury during a blocking drill.
The first-year Patriot, who has been a standout through the spring and the opening days of camp, wasn’t able to participate in 1-on-1, 7-on-7, or 11-on-11 exercises. He stayed on the field for all of practice but did exit through the back field (a.k.a., the Brady escape route).
Mainstay receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, both of whom are on the physically unable to perform list, were again at practice but did not pad up or participate.
Keshawn Martin missed practice for an undisclosed reason and veteran Nate Washington didn’t practice for the third straight day after getting sick early in Thursday’s workout.
He may be entering his third NFL season, but running back Tyler Gaffney is still trying to complete his first training camp after spending the last two years on injured reserve.
So far, so good.
“It’s been great, got to play some football, play healthy, there’s nothing more you can ask for,” Gaffney said. “I’m happy to be here, great organization. I’ve been here for two years and some change, can’t ask for a better organization.”
Gaffney played baseball and football at Stanford and was drafted by Carolina in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He suffered a knee injury during his rookie training camp with the Panthers and was waived. The Patriots claimed him on July 28, 2014, and placed him on IR.
The 6-foot, 220-pound Gaffney was set to vie for a roster spot during camp last season but suffered another season-ending injury. The Patriots released the 25-year-old on April 11 to revise his contract, re-signing him three days later.
“I was completely aware,” Gaffney said of the circumstances surrounding his release. “They do a good job of keeping you in the loop, they’re not going to lie to you, good or bad. That’s what it was and that’s how it had to work for me to be on the team.”
While Gaffney is fighting to stand out among the running back group of LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, James White, Donald Brown, D.J. Foster, and Joey Iosefa in order to secure a spot on the 53-man roster, he said his goal for this year’s camp is simply to become a more well-rounded player.
“The more you can do, the better chance you have to be on the squad,” he said. “You come out here trying to be a better football player. If you don’t try to be a better football player you’re going to have trouble making the team.”
Cooper, Stork absent
Guard Jonathan Cooper (foot) and center Bryan Stork (undisclosed) were not at practice after leaving early Saturday . . . Bolden, receiver Malcolm Mitchell, and defensive tackle Vincent Valentine returned after one-day absences . . . The Rosenhaus brothers also represent defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who is in the last year of his contract . . . Kevin Faulk, who will be enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame on Monday, was back on the practice field. Near the end of practice, Belichick gathered the team to recognize and praise Faulk. It’s unknown what the coach said but late last week when asked about the former versatile running back, Belichick said, “He basically spent his whole career playing for me and did everything we ever asked him to do. [He was a] dependable player, unselfish team player, played some of his best football in the biggest games. [He’s] very deserving. I’m proud to have coached him.’’