FOXBOROUGH — Rob Gronkowski returned to the field Saturday afternoon for the first time since suffering a concussion in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
The All-Pro tight end looked in fine form as he went through stretching, jogging, and then catching passes during individual drills during the portion of full pads practice media were allowed to observe.
Gronkowski, who absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jacksonville’s Barry Church in the game, still is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Catching passes is considered Stage 4 (football specific activities) of the five-step graduated exertion protocol. Stage 5 would be full participation in a contact practice.
The Patriots don’t have to file another injury report until Wednesday.
Gronkowski’s presence was welcomed by his teammates, particularly Tom Brady.
“It’s always great to have him out there,’’ the quarterback said. “He’s a great player, great person, great teammate, and a big part of what we do. So, it obviously hurts when he’s not out there for a lot of reasons, but he’s doing the best he can do and we’re all hopeful.’’
Rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise, who also had been out all week with a concussion, also was back on the field for the unseasonably warm and sunny workout on the lower field behind Gillette Stadium.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown, who is dealing with a foot injury but was spotted in the locker room all week, was the lone player missing from the session.
For the record, Brady ditched the red glove on his right hand during pocket drills. He wasn’t spotted throwing.
Brady suffered a cut that required multiple stitches on the hand during the Wednesday practice before the AFC Championship game and had been wearing a glove during practices ever since.
New England will hold one more practice session Sunday before departing for Minneapolis on Monday morning following a send-off rally at Gillette.
Brady: No distractions
Brady spoke with the media for the final time before Super Bowl media night and the first time since the release of “Tom vs. Time,” the docuseries that was released on Facebook Watch last week.
After first joking that he didn’t mind talking about distractions (“Let’s talk about them,’’ he said), Brady got serious and declined to discuss the five-part series that goes behind the scenes of the quarterback’s home life and workout regimen.
“Yeah, we’ll stick to football this week, too,’’ he said. “I like that no-distractions part. Thank you.’’
The next four installments in “Tom vs. Time” will be released this week. The schedule: Chapter 2 (Sunday), Chapter 3 (Tuesday), Chapter 4 (Thursday), and Chapter 5 (Super Bowl Sunday).
Stephon Gilmore will see a very familiar face when he lines up against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII in a week.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound Gilmore often draws the assignment of blanketing the opposition’s biggest receiver, and in this game that means a lot of 6-3, 218-pound Alshon Jeffery, his former college teammate — and roommate — at South Carolina.
The sixth-year veterans both are competing in the playoffs for the first time after signing with their current teams as free agents last year.
“He’s a big guy [and] he’s got a big catch radius,’’ said Gilmore, when asked what makes Jeffery such a threat. “He’s a good receiver. We used to go at it a lot in practice in college and he does whatever he can to win.’’
Both have been thriving in their first postseason runs.
Jeffery caught 57 passes for 789 yards and 9 touchdowns this season and has been solid in two playoff games with nine catches for 146 yards and a pair of scores. Gilmore, meanwhile, sealed last week’s AFC Championship game with a leaping pass breakup on fourth down.
“I’m looking forward to trying to make plays to help the team win,’’ said Gilmore, who added he hasn’t been in contact with Jeffery in the last week. “Whatever position the coaches put me in, I’ve got to be ready to be successful.’’
They have bark and bite
The Eagles have embraced their role as underdogs this postseason, with Chris Long leading the way by wearing a German Shepherd mask after the team’s win over the Falcons in the divisional round. Despite being the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the Eagles were labeled underdogs because of quarterback Carson Wentz’s season-ending knee injury. Brady said he’s more concerned with what’s behind the mask. “I don’t think much about masks that they wear or anything like that,’’ he said. “I just try to focus on what we need to do. It’s a good team we’re playing. They’ve been the best team, No. 1 seed in the NFC, so I think that speaks to how well they’ve played all year.’’ . . . Saturday was the 18th anniversary of Bill Belichick being hired as the Patriots coach – New England sent a first-round draft pick to the Jets as compensation. Belichick has an overall mark of 241-83 in that time, including a 28-10 postseason mark, and five Super Bowl victories.