Tom Brady eager to get a healthy Gronk back in the huddle

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When it comes to top storylines surrounding the New England Patriots, there aren’t many bigger ones than the projected return of tight end Rob Gronkowski.

If it doesn’t happen when the team returns from its bye and visits the New York Jets on Nov. 25, it would be a surprise. Getting Gronkowski back in the huddle would naturally be uplifting for quarterback Tom Brady, who seemed upbeat in general Wednesday.

“Absolutely. I’ve played a lot of football with him and I think I have a lot of trust and confidence in a lot of the things that have happened over the years. When he’s not there, there’s a different level with other players. Sometimes we don’t try things because Gronk isn’t in there. Sometimes we do,” Brady said.

“Obviously, the more dependable, consistent players you have on the field, the more productive and efficient you’ll be, which leads to more points, which leads to better opportunities to win the game, which is ultimately the reason we’re all here.”

Getting Gronkowski back to being himself was at the root of him missing three of the past four games, as he’s been slowed by ankle and back injuries. The hope is that he’s at his best down the homestretch after getting extended rest.

There have been obvious signs of progress.

On Oct. 21, the team didn’t want Gronkowski traveling on the plane because of his back, according to coach Bill Belichick. But this past Sunday in Nashville, Gronkowski joined the Patriots on the flight.

“We took him down there, because he was doing better, but in the end he wasn’t able to go,” Belichick said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI.

Brady is looking forward to seeing Gronkowski back in the huddle.

“Whenever we get him back, I think everyone is going to be excited about that,” he said. “Hopefully it’s soon, but those things are really up to him and the trainers and so forth. I know he works extremely hard at preparing, and I know he wants to be out there.”

With just 29 receptions for 448 yards and one touchdown, Gronkowski’s production is notably lower through seven games than it has been in the past (although NFL Next Gen Stats note that he's been open -- at least 3 yards of separation at the arrival of the pass -- on 37 percent of his targets).

The strain the season has had on him has also been evident at times.

When Gronkowski returned to the Patriots (7-3) after spending most of the offseason focusing on his own conditioning program, he made the point that football can be a great game when a player feels good, but it can be miserable when a player is hurting. Then last week, when asked how much fun he’s having, he said, “Just working hard. Sometimes you just have to put the work in and do what you got to do.”

Gronkowski’s hope is that more fun days are ahead, starting with his return to action.