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Rob Gronkowski leaves Patriots practice early

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski walked off the field during practice, an exit some teammates didn’t see.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — The disturbing recent trend of Patriots leaving practice early because of injuries continued Monday when Rob Gronkowski became the latest casualty.

About midway through the first of three joint workouts with the Bears, the tight end pulled up lame after reaching up for a pass that sailed over his head.

Gronkowski immediately headed to the sideline and took off his helmet as he joined a group of teammates.

Head trainer Jim Whalen, after talking with Tom Brady for a short time, came over for a chat. The two then headed off to the lower field and to the locker room.


It appeared to be a lower-body injury, though the 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound Gronkowski was able to walk off under his own power, albeit gingerly.

There was no immediate word on his condition after practice.

“I didn’t even see him leave, to be honest,’’ said quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “Hopefully he’s all right and we’ll see what it is.’’

Gronkowski’s injury comes on the heels of Rob Ninkovich (torn triceps) and Julian Edelman (foot discomfort) leaving practice a week ago.

Additionally, rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell suffered a dislocated left elbow in Thursday’s exhibition win over the Saints.

Ninkovich, Edelman, and Mitchell all have returned to practice, though in varying degrees of participation. Ninkovich and Mitchell left for the conditioning field after stretching. Edelman is participating in everything except 11-on-11 drills.

Rough and tumble

The temperature wasn’t the only thing on the rise Monday on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. Tempers were flaring, too.

Three tiffs broke out during joint practice No. 1 with the Bears — the worst being a near donnybrook that started between Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler and Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery engaged Butler on a run block (the play went the opposite way) and the Patriot took exception. Pushing and shoving continued before both men grabbed each other’s facemask for some tugging.


Just when it seemed like the two would disengage, Chicago tight end Greg Scruggs joined the fracas and multiple players from each team followed suit. Cooler heads eventually prevailed and order was restored.

Butler was ejected from the practice, per coach Bill Belichick’s zero-tolerance policy on fighting. Jeffery stayed on the field, but didn’t participate further in the session.

A short time later, tackle Nate Solder and tight end Martellus Bennett got into it with some Bears while blocking on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal attempt. Bennett, a former Bear, ended up on the ground courtesy of ex-teammate Lamarr Houston.

In the final skirmish, Patriots rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill and Bears tight end Gannon Sinclair did some minor pushing and shoving during a late drill.

“Just being competitive,’’ said Patriots safety Duron Harmon. “That’s going to happen from time to time. All you can do is move on and just worry about the next play.’’

Asked how easy it was to move on to the next play, Harmon said, “Not at all. But that’s just the game. If that [happened] in a game today, that would have caused a 15-yard penalty, probably, flags, fines, all that stuff, so there’s really no place for it on the football field.

“We can’t let our tempers rile up that much and just continue to have discipline, even when stuff’s not going the way you want it to. Just continue to stay focused and remember the big picture.’’


After the second incident, Belichick arrived on scene quickly to help diffuse the situation as Bennett and his ex-teammates shouted back and forth.

Bears coach John Fox didn’t seem to think the fact that Bennett was involved was intentional. It was more of a coincidence.

“There’s no ill will or anything like that,’’ he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out. There’s a business side, a football side, a bunch of things happen in the course of a football career. I still wish Martellus the best.’’

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who has absorbed some criticism from his former tight end in the past, didn’t think Monday’s dust-ups were too big of a deal.

“It’s tough, it’s a contact sport,’’ he said with a shrug. “They were light skirmishes. Small ones.’’

Garoppolo said that while there’s no room for fighting in practice, he does appreciate his teammates’ fighting spirit.

“It’s mixed emotions, I guess,’’ he said. “You like to have guys on your team with that type of mind-set, I mean it’s football, it’s a physical game and things are going to happen out there, and you want to have a guy on your team who’s going to have your back. I think our team is full of those guys.’’

Brotherly love

Two players who didn’t get involved in the fracas were the Brothers Long. Patriots defensive end Chris and his younger sibling Kyle, a Bears guard, spent a ton of time joking and laughing after practice. Asked about the extracurricular activities, Kyle, a 6-6, 320-pounder said with a laugh, “I was making sure Chris wasn’t coming to drop-kick me. I turned around and, of course, he was making a beeline toward me.’’ Not to be outdone in the comedy department, the 6-3, 270-pound Chris went the humor route when asked if he enjoyed hitting his brother. “Hitting my brother? Not a lot. He’s like a big tree stump, so luckily I’m out there on the edge and we didn’t have to deal with each other much today.’’ . . . On the transaction front, safety Brock Vereen retired and safety Nate Ebner was officially activated after his Olympic tour and likely will be at practice Tuesday . . . Not shocking but noteworthy that Walter Payton No. 34 jerseys easily outpaced Cutler No. 6 jerseys. Sweetness . . . The Patriots have moved the remaining joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday to 10 a.m. They were originally set for 1 p.m.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.