FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last time New England Patriots fans saw tight end Rob Gronkowski in a game, he didn't look like his record-breaking self. Hobbled by an ankle injury that later required surgery, he gutted through Super Bowl XLVI, but wasn't the dominating factor he had been all season.
One lingering question was whether Gronkowski would be on the field for the start of 2012 training camp, and it's been answered as decisively as one of his trademark touchdown spikes.
"I'm out there going full right now," Gronkowski told reporters Friday after the team's second practice of camp. "I'm here to play some football, baby. You know it."
The overflowing crowds that have packed the team's first two practices at Gillette Stadium, starting with a record 12,163 on Thursday, have cheered nearly every time Gronkowski has touched the football, highlighting how he's quickly become a fan favorite.
Gronkowski reported no issues with the surgically repaired left ankle.
"It's feeling good," he said. "You don't want to be in the training room. I'm having a blast so far, just looking forward every single day."
As was witnessed during his highly publicized offseason, which teammate Wes Welker dubbed as "The Summer of Gronk," having a blast isn't much of an issue for the 23-year-old Gronkowski. Welker joked Thursday that he was impressed with how good Gronkowski looked on the field, cracking that he was skeptical because of his offseason exploits.
Gronkowski deflected questions about his offseason Friday, including one on whether the Patriots had asked him to tone things down.
"It's training camp time. When it's football time, it's all football, nothing but football," he answered. "I'm always excited for football and I'm glad to be back. I missed the locker room. I missed the teammates, missed competing versus the defense. That's all I care about, my job out on the football field."
Gronkowski acknowledged that he's been rusty the last two days, but that hasn't stopped him from making several catches, most of them delivered by quarterback Tom Brady.
"He's still a beast, a freak of nature," fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez said. "He's going to make plays, especially when you have a good quarterback like Tom throwing you the ball; Tom is going to put it in the right place. And when you're 6-(foot)-7 with 7-something arm reach, not many people are going to get their hands in there to stop you."
Gronkowski didn't downplay the significance of his ankle surgery, but relayed that it's not on the forefront of his mind on the field.
"I think all surgeries are serious -- if it's minor or if it's major, it's a surgery," he said. "So you just have to rehab it, do the right thing for it, take it day by day and week by week, make sure you're doing the right thing with the trainers, and I believe we did that. We did a great job. The surgery was a while ago and this whole process, there was definitely no hurry. That's what the whole offseason was for -- to get right, to get healthy."