Jul 24, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) runs through drills during training camp at the team practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots' Rob Gronkowski participates in 11-on-11 drills for first time

Rob Gronkowski has had to pass a series of steps in his recovery from ACL surgery that ended his 2013 season prematurely last year and in perhaps his most significant step to date, the New England Patriots tight end participated in 11-on-11 work for the first time this preseason.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss was the first to report the news and tweeted that Gronkowski was target often during Monday’s session as the All-Pro works his way back to full health so he can fulfill his goal of playing in a full 16-game schedule.

Injuries have taken their toll on Gronkowski who has played in 18 of a possible 32 regular season games the last two years, but this is certainly an encouraging sign for his availability for the season opener.

Recent reports have suggested his availability for Week 1 were in doubt and a report from Greg Bedard of the MMQB last week painted a troubling picture of a hobbled Gronkowski favoring his surgically-repaired knee and running with a noticeable limp.

With two more weeks in the preseason, look for the Patriots to ramp up the intensity and duration of workouts involving Gronkowski as they get him ready for the season as Tom Brady‘s favorite weapon and red zone monster.

But they will likely still play it safe and conservative and give him days off when necessary.

New England doesn’t need Gronkowski healthy for mid-August, they need him healthy for 16 games this season, and he has stated its his goal to play a full schedule for the first time since his record-breaking 2011 season when he had 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Tags: New England Patriots NFL Rob Gronkowski

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