FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The patented Rob Gronkowski touchdown spike is closer to making a comeback.
Gronkowski's presence on the practice field for the start of the New England Patriots' full-pads workout Sunday was easily the story of the day for the team. It signifies another step in Gronkowski's recovery from multiple surgeries on his left forearm and one surgery on his back this offseason, as this was his first time in a full-pads practice.
The biggest takeaway: He's slowly moving from rehabilitation-specific work to more football-specific work.
But he's not completely there yet. After reporters left practice, Gronkowski did too, according to a source. He went to work with members of the team's athletic training staff while most of his other teammates carried on in team drills.
Still, this is obviously a sign of progress for Gronkowski, who had clearly pushed himself hard in whatever work he was doing Sunday because he arrived in the locker room sweating heavily at the time media members were present. He also was smiling, which one can understand because this has been a trying offseason for him with surgery after surgery after surgery. He had to wonder, at some point, when he'd actually be able to play football again.
Now, if Gronkowski's recovery were measured by the length of a football field, he'd have just about entered the red zone.
The expectation is that he won't be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Bills, or for the quick turnaround against the Jets on Thursday, Sept. 12.
Then it lines up this way:
Sept. 22: vs. Buccaneers
Sept. 29: at Falcons
Oct. 6: at Bengals
Oct. 13: vs. Saints
Sometime within that range looks like the sweet spot for when Gronkowski might be ready to deliver one of his "boom" touchdown spikes. The Patriots almost certainly would have placed him on the reserve/physically unable to perform list if that were not a realistic expectation.
His presence at the start of Sunday's practice reinforced that thought.