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Countdown to Patriots training camp: 13 days

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has scored a touchdown in 77 percent of the games he’s played in. File/Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Patriots return to training camp July 27 to begin their quest for a third Super Bowl title in four seasons. Their summer of celebration — from the post-Super Bowl parade to the ring ceremony — is officially over, and it’s time to look ahead to 2017-18.

The Patriots kick off the season in Foxborough against the Chiefs on Thursday, Sept. 7.

Training camp officially is 13 days away. The Globe will count down each day by highlighting a player, coach, and fact about the team.

Quick fact: The average height of Patriots players is 6 feet 2 inches.

Player spotlight: Rob Gronkowski


As Gronkowski enters his eighth NFL season, the narrative remains: When he is healthy, he is undoubtedly the best tight end in the league. The four-time first-team All-Pro has caught 10 or more touchdown passes in all five seasons that he has played double-digit games.

But Gronkowski has played in only 70 percent of regular-season games in the past five seasons because of injuries. Last year, he played in eight regular-season contests, the second fewest of his career. The last time he played in all 16 games was 2011, the same year he broke the season touchdown record (17) for tight ends.

Gronkowski has been the victim of low hits. It may be in the Patriots’ best interest to limit his reps, but his recent incentive-laden contract makes that unlikely.

Gronkowski returned to the field in minicamp seemingly unhindered by previous back and hamstring injuries. No one can overstate his obvious talents and value when he is on the field.

Consider this: Gronkowski has 68 career receiving touchdowns, the third-most all time for a tight end. He has played in 88 games, some of which he played sparingly because of injuries. Gronkowski has caught a touchdown in a whopping 77 percent of games.


Comparatively, Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez are tied for the all-time touchdown lead for tight ends with 111 grabs apiece. Gonzalez, who only missed two games in his 17-year career, caught a touchdown in 41 percent of his games. Gates scores in 54 percent of his games.

Gronkowski separates himself from the other great pass-catching tight ends with his exceptional run-blocking. When he is on the field, Gronkowski is arguably the greatest to ever play the position. But “when” is a big qualifier.

Coach spotlight: Joe Judge

Judge (above right) enters his third season in charge of special teams after he was an assistant on the staff for the previous three years. Judge won national championships in 2009 and 2011 as a football analyst and assistant special teams coach at Alabama.

The Patriots special teams unit was one of the best in the league in 2012, Judge’s first year on the staff. The Patriots allowed the fewest punt return yards in the NFL.

Several of Judge’s players have flourished in recent years. Matthew Slater is the premier gunner in the NFL, having been named to the Pro Bowl each of the past six seasons. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, whose 87.07 percent field goal accuracy rate ranks fourth in NFL history, led the league in scoring four straight years from 2012-15. Nate Ebner led the NFL with 22 special-teams tackles in 2016, despite the Patriots punting only 72 times for the season.

Judge, 35, is one of the youngest coaches on the staff.


Brad Almquist can be reached at brad.almquist@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bquist13.