Timetable now set for Gronkowski

News that tight end Rob Gronkowski will undergo back surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles sets the timetable for his potential availability in the season opener.

We knew the back surgery was coming. Now we know the date.

Is an 83-day stretch, from the day of surgery (June 18) to the day of the opener (Sept. 8), enough time for Gronkowski to recover?

A 12-week recovery was estimated, which if that's the way it unfolds, would put Gronkowski's return right around the opener. So this is cutting it close, even if everything goes according to plans.

But it also makes sense to think the Patriots will take a long-range view and a conservative approach, so preparing for the early part of the season without Gronkowski, which in February wasn't a consideration, is now a possibility.

It could come down to a decision on whether the Patriots want to place Gronkowski on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which would sideline him for at least the first six games of the regular season, but open a roster spot for another player. Or if the team thinks Gronkowski could return at some point within the first six games, they could put him on the active roster even if he's not ready for the opener.

At this point, it's too early to speculate which way it will go. The next step is seeing what doctors find on Tuesday, and how Gronkowski responds to the surgery.

With both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (shoulder) not practicing in offseason camps, the Patriots have been working with Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and rookies Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford at tight end.

Hernandez has been making progress in his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, and could be ready for the start of training camp. But with Gronkowski not expected to be ready for training camp, more attention will naturally be focused on Ballard (returning after missing 2012 following knee surgery), Fells, Hoomanawanui and Sudfeld in camp.