When healthy, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski can be one of the most devastating weapons in the NFL.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end is one of quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite targets. Seemingly able to run through opposing defenses at will, Gronkowski is the first tight end with three straight seasons of 10 or more touchdowns (2010-12), and with three seasons of 1,000 or more yards receiving and 10 or more touchdowns. A three-time All-Pro, he led the league with 17 touchdown receptions in 2011, his second pro season.
The problem for Gronkowski and the Patriots has been his ability to stay on the field. He appeared in eight games last season before undergoing December back surgery — the third in his career — missing the Patriots’ stunning comeback win in the Super Bowl. The last time he appeared in all 16 regular-season games was 2011. Since his rookie year, he has appeared in 88 of 112 regular-season games.
Gronkowski is confident he’s fully ready for the 2017 season.
“Definitely no doubts,” he said Tuesday after the first of the Patriots’ three-day mandatory minicamp at Gillette Stadium. “All the hard work you put in is what you’re going to get out of it. So, I love to put in the work, love the challenge sometimes. So … now I’m good to go.
“It’s always important whenever I get a little setback like that that happened, just get back to where I need to be and I feel like I am, doing everything out here, and competing. It’s fun.”
The three back procedures are just part of Gronkowski’s lengthy medical history. He’s also had four forearm surgeries, one on his knee and another on his ankle. While his spirit might be willing, is there a point at which his body can’t take any more?
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Whatever you put your mind to it, it can take everything.”
The Patriots hope so. Despite his season-ending injury, the team restructured Gronkowski’s contract — with many incentives tied to his ability to stay on the field. That could make him the highest-paid tight end in the league. Gronkowski is not fazed by the challenge.
“I’m always trying to perform,” he said. “I’m always motivated no matter what the circumstances are.”