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Rob Gronkowski explains absence from Patriots OTAs: 'I wanted to take care of my body'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rob Gronkowski made an energetic return for the first practice of the New England Patriots' mandatory minicamp Tuesday, and then explained that he didn't attend seven weeks of voluntary workouts because he believed training on his own was the best decision for him.

"I wanted to take care of my body, take care of myself and see where I was at before I came out here. I think it was a good decision," he said. "I was having all different thoughts -- see if I really wanted to go through it again.

"I feel like I'm just going to do what's best for myself and take care of myself, because if I can't take care of myself, I can't take care of anyone else and help out the team."

Gronkowski, who at one point let out a loud yell of excitement after catching a pass from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer against double coverage, acknowledged the approach was different for him as he enters his ninth NFL season.

"But coming back, definitely the same. I felt like I was never gone," he relayed, adding that he initially had some "jitters" at the start of practice.

"It just felt really good to be back out on the field, and that's what matters most," he said. "I enjoyed it a lot today. I love playing the game of football. The game of football is fun when you're feeling good. If you're not feeling good, myself, I've asked many other players, you really don't like the game of football. But if you're feeling good, your body feels good, your mind feels good, the joy of playing the game of football is off the charts. At the same time, if you're not feeling good, it can be awful.

"I just want to be feeling good, keep my mind clear, and keep playing the game and enjoy it."

Gronkowski has two years remaining on his contract, and he is scheduled to earn a base salary of $8 million in 2018. Last year, the Patriots sweetened his contract with incentives, and Gronkowski said he is "trying to" do something similar with the team again.

"Who wouldn't?" he asked.

When asked if he is on good terms with the franchise and coach Bill Belichick, Gronkowski said, "Yeah, yeah, for sure."

Like Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady also took part in mandatory minicamp after staying away from the first seven weeks of voluntary workouts.

He hooked up with Gronkowski multiple times and the two spent parts of the practice talking with each other.

"Tom looked great. I don't think he's ever going to look bad," Gronkowski said. "He's never tired, his arm strength is always up there."