FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Star tight end Rob Gronkowski stood in front of his Gillette Stadium locker Monday and announced he will be playing in the New England Patriots’ opener at Miami this Sunday.
Meanwhile, the news hardly caught the Dolphins by surprise.
“I’m super excited,” said Gronkowski, who didn’t play in any of the four preseason games as he completed his recovery from December right knee surgery. “I won’t have to see my teammates grind all week – (I’ll) go back out there with them, get in the huddle, break the huddle with them.
“It’s going to be an honor to be back out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game.”
The pronouncement came as a bit of a surprise in a locker room not known for players “breaking news.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just getting it out of the way there,” Gronkowski said. “Every single day this week (he would have been asked about returning) – get it out of the way now.”
“It just feels good in my mind to know that I’ll be out there with my boys, working hard, grinding with them, being out there.”
The Patriots are 6-0 all-time when Gronkowski plays against the Dolphins, but Miami has kept him in some check of late. Gronkowski’s last two games against Miami resulted in a total of only four catches.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said his team was “fully prepared” for a Gronkowski sighting.
“He’s an excellent player,” Philbin said Monday. “He’s been a very very productive player throughout his career. We’ll have a good plan in place, but he’s certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We’ll be ready for him, for sure.”
Gronkowski, who tore his right ACL and MCL last Dec. 8, is a two-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2011. He has 226 catches with 42 touchdowns in 50 regular-season games. Last season, coming off multiple surgeries and an arm infection, he appeared in seven games, catching 39 passes, four for touchdowns, before going down on a hit by safety T.J. Ward, then of the Cleveland Browns.
Asked if he feels ready, Gronkowski said, “Definitely. I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure, no doubt about it.”
“Just the way we just worked throughout all camp and the last few weeks, everything’s just been going well,” Gronkowski added. “There’s been no setbacks, just more and more (work) every single day.
“Now I just have to focus on the Miami Dolphins, just keep focusing on getting better and getting stronger.”
Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he’s been working under the assumption Gronkowski would be ready for Week 1.
“He’s also been a big target for them in the red zone,” Coyle said. “If he plays, and how much he plays, we don’t know how much that will be, that’s not going to change what we do.”
Gronkowski says he doesn’t expect to play “every single snap” Sunday, but is ready for “whatever the coaches have.”
“It’s been long and tiring for sure,” he said. “But you just got to be patient and everything comes along well. That’s the way I’ve been – just keep working hard and it will all come.”
Last week, the Patriots traded veteran guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright, who has been added to provide depth.
“So far, he’s been working hard. It’s been great seeing him improving every single day, learning everything, and it’s always fun with a new guy that wants to work hard,” Gronkowski said.
NOTES: WR Josh Boyce, cut Saturday, was one of 10 players signed to the taxi squad, a list that includes DL Charley Hughlett, who is being signed for the second time as a long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken. DE-LB Rob Ninkovich is currently the only long snapper on the roster. … Also re-signed were DL Jake Bequette, LBs Ja’Gared Davis and Deontae Skinner, S Kanorris Davis, RB Jonas Gray, OL Chris Martin and DB Daxton Swanson. The club also added quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, last with San Francisco. … Late Monday, the Patriots announced that they claimed safety Don Jones off waivers from Miami and released offensive lineman Chris Barker.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Davie, Fla. contributed to this story.