Injury-plagued Rob Gronkowski is back in the news again. The New England Patriots’ Pro Bowl tight end is scheduled to have back surgery Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com. This provides Gronkowski and New England with a firm timeline to begin the recovery phase.
If the Patriots are smart, the game plan for Gronkowski’s rehab is simple: Keep him away from all live action until Week 1 of the regular season.
Gronkowski needs rest more than he needs training camp. He’s been a human pin cushion this offseason. Next week will mark his fifth surgery since November. Gronkowski will simultaneously rehab his back and his surgically repaired arm this summer. Putting Gronkowski’s beat-up body through the grind of training camp is pointless. Playing him in the preseason also is an unnecessary injury risk. A player as talented as Gronkowski doesn’t need either to have a successful season.
Keeping Gronkowski sidelined this summer also provides more reps for fellow Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Jake Ballard. Those two will get a chance to grow and work together for the first time. Ballard, in particular, missed the entire 2012 season with a knee injury and could use the extra playing time and attention. Considering Hernandez's and Gronkowski's lengthy injury histories, there’s a good chance Ballard will be asked to fill in this season.
As Reiss mentioned in his analysis, there will be 83 days between Gronkowski’s surgery and New England’s Week 1 AFC East showdown with the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots should be all about getting Gronkowski ready for Sept. 8 from this point forward. Anything before that date is unimportant.