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What's different for Rob Gronkowski this year in Patriots training camp

Rob Gronkowski came to training camp at his playing weight and through eight practices he has dominated. Photograph by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts on the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. If Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski adds an extra late-night snack to his daily routine this year, we'll know why. For the first time in his seven-year career, Gronkowski arrived for training camp at his playing weight (listed at 265 pounds); his usual approach was to come in heavier knowing that he would shed weight with all the running the team does in camp. "It wasn't anything intentional. It was probably because I was running a lot before coming to camp," Gronkowski told me. "Now it's about maintaining it, so you eat, baby! You eat that extra steak, you eat those extra potatoes, all that extra stuff." Gronkowski, who has been dominant at times through eight practices, added that he plans to take a similar approach in the future because he's pleased with how it has gone so far in training camp.

2. After putting it off for nine days, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady answered questions from reporters at training camp for the first time on Friday, and the biggest takeaway was this: Brady naturally has strong feelings about almost everything connected to Deflategate, but he doesn't see the positive impact of sharing those publicly. While not a major surprise, it made the whole turn of events a bit anticlimactic.

3. The Patriots placed seven players on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp, and one on the non football injury list, and I was curious how that compared to the rest of the NFL. Here are some of the stats:

  • The eight players were the third-highest total in the NFL. Only the Ravens and Bills had more, with 10 apiece.

  • Only one team, the Falcons, didn't start camp with a single player on either the PUP or NFI list.

  • The league average was 4.15 players per team opening camp on a reserve list.

Of the Patriots' eight players to open camp on a reserve list, two have since been cleared to practice -- second-year right guard Shaq Mason and 10-year veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch. The Patriots have traditionally had one of the higher totals, as they generally are ultra-cautious and patient with players coming off injury, sometimes carrying that into the regular season as a way of building in-season depth.

4. Running back Dion Lewis, who is coming back from a torn left ACL sustained Nov. 7, remains on the PUP list, but I'm told that isn't a result of any type of setback. The expectation of those close to Lewis was that the team would take it slow with him because preserving him for the 16-game regular season is the goal. I think Lewis' usage is one of the more compelling storylines of this season. During the first five games of last season, he was on the field for 66 percent of the team's offensive snaps before injuries (first abdomen, then knee) altered the course. Given his importance to the team, does that workload need to be scaled back in 2016?

"You never necessarily know if that led to an injury or didn't, so that's a tricky question to find out exactly what it was," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said at the outset of training camp. "But the goal in mind is to find the optimum usage level for each player and work to it. Sometimes that's not easy to identify at the beginning."

5. The Patriots have three quarterbacks in training camp -- Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and 2016 third-round pick Jacoby Brissett -- which has sparked some talk-radio chatter on whether they will bring in a fourth option at some point. The thinking is that No. 4 would become No. 3 during the time Brady serves his four-game suspension to open the season, and perhaps even No. 2 if Brissett needs more time. Maybe they will acquire a fourth QB, but it's not like there is a great crop from which to choose. That's why I think they end up riding with just Garoppolo and Brissett for the first four games, which is really no different than what they did in 2009 with Brady and Brian Hoyer and 2014 with Brady and Garoppolo when the No. 2 was a rookie. They could always add a quarterback to the practice squad as a layer of insurance.

6. Did you know: After signing free-agent quarterback Nick Foles last week, the Chiefs became the only team in the NFL to have five players at the position on their roster. Based on rosters as of Saturday, 16 teams were carrying four quarterbacks, while 15 had three.

7. Rookie receiver Sterling Shepard (second round, 40th overall) is off to a strong start with the Giants, and I don't think many on the Patriots' offensive coaching and scouting staff are surprised. I heard Shepard was highly regarded by the club. So when I think about the type of player the Patriots lost out on after being stripped of their late first-round draft choice as part of the NFL's Deflategate penalties, Shepard is one of those who comes to mind.

8. Bill Belichick seldom hesitated to put his trust in running back Sammy Morris during Morris' four seasons with the club (2007-2010) and now he's doing it in a different form in the coaching ranks. The 39-year-old Morris, who was part of the NFL's Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship, is sticking around the club throughout the 2016 season. Morris had been coaching high school football in Massachusetts and now gets to spend a season learning under the watch of one of the best of all time.

9. I love listening to Pro Football Hall of Fame speeches each year, and Brett Favre delivered a 36-minute gem Saturday night. It was emotional and from the heart, and Patriots defensive end Chris Long summed up part of what made it so special:

10. Brady's impressive 25-for-25 performance in Friday's intrasquad scrimmage, as well as his fiery emotion, reminded me of the 2007 practice in which he and Randy Moss dominated for a stretch and no one could stop them. When you see something like that unfold, it's a reminder that when superstars get in that type of zone, special things can happen. The other thought I had was the consumer value for the 6,000 or so fans in attendance: There's no admission charge, parking is free, it's rare to be that close to the action, and some fortunate fans also land an autograph or two. To me, Patriots training camp practice remains the most consistent bargain in New England sports in that regard. Where else could all of that happen and you wouldn't once have to dip into your pocket for a dollar bill?

SUNDAY'S PATRIOTS SCHEDULE: 2 p.m. Belichick news conference; 2:30 p.m. practice.