Will Rob Gronkowski take a step back?

After losing 2012 starting wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the New England Patriots must rely heavily on tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the passing game. But can the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady count on Gronkowski to have another Pro Bowl season in 2013?

Gronkowski is slated for back surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss a portion of training camp. The main goal is to have Gronkowski ready for New England's Week 1 AFC East battle against the Buffalo Bills.

But how effective with Gronkowski be when he returns?

“He will be Gronk-ish, I’ll say, but I don’t know if he will be the same explosive, strong, physical Gronkowski," ESPN NFL analyst Jason Taylor said. "It’s tough to come back from four surgeries on your forearm, and now a fifth surgery on your back.”

Taylor also mentioned all of the offseason work in the weight room and strength training that Gronkowski is missing. It will take time to regain his full strength and flexibility.

I’ve said several times to expect New England’s passing attack to take a step back this year. The receivers aren’t as good and the tight end position has plenty of health concerns. If Gronkowski isn’t the “Gronk” of old in 2013, New England needs others step up and stay healthy for a full season.