- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots players and coaches huddled to end their first training camp practice Thursday morning, their work completed. Quarterback Tom Brady, however, wasn’t finished.
Brady went to the team’s second practice field with tight end Rob Gronkowski and the two worked on a variety of pass routes. Gronkowski didn’t participate in the team drill portion of the practice, so it was a way for him to reconnect with Brady as he eases back into practice following Jan. 9 surgery to repair his torn right ACL.
Meanwhile, a little extra work is always welcome for Brady.
“I’m excited to be out here with my teammates and working to get better,” Brady said after the two-hour practice. “It’s a long training camp. It’s going to be a lot of effort and a lot of work. There is no easy way about it. You just have to grind and put the work in and listen to the coaches, try to make the improvements. Hopefully when we start the season, we’ll be a lot better team than we are now.”
Gronkowski’s presence will be a big factor as well and is one of the top storylines at Patriots training camp. Gronkowski wore a brace over his right knee during practice and continues to wear a protective cover over his previously injured left forearm.
While Gronkowski has been cleared to play by doctors, coach Bill Belichick is clearly easing him back into the practice mix, as one would expect.
“When you have great players like that on the field, it helps you a lot. Your margin for error goes up,” Brady said. “But you have to prepare for both. I don’t think the expectations have changed -- you still have to go out and execute the play the best way you know how to and try to do it at a high level on a really consistent basis.”
Brady, who handed his shoulder pads off to rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to carry to the locker room at the end of practice, is treating his 15th training camp like his first. It’s just like the sixth-round-draft-choice chip he still has on his shoulder.
“There are very few people who have the opportunity I have, and I’m very appreciative of it,” he said. “You never know when the last one is going to be. Just appreciate the moments you have, and every year is something different. This could be your last training camp. You never know. You have to make it count. You can’t take anything for granted in the NFL. I just try to do the best I can for this team, and hopefully it leads to a great year.
“Hopefully I can bring really positive leadership and energy to the team. If the quarterback won’t do it, then who else will? That’s how I’ve always looked at it.”