It was good to see Rob Gronkowski at OTAs this week. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Sunday 7: How Rob Gronkowski’s 2017 season already got off to a good start

Ryan Hannable
May 28, 2017 - 6:00 am

1. Just six months ago, Rob Gronkowski was having yet another back surgery, which ended his 2016 season two months premature. But unlike some other offseasons, the injury didn't prevent Gronkowski from participating in OTAs, as the tight end was a full participant this week. Last season he didn't participate until the last OTA session open to the media in the middle of June. In 2015 he participated, but was limited in 2014 coming off a torn ACL, and didn't participate at all in 2013 due to arm surgery. "We'll see how it goes," Bill Belichick said Thursday about Gronkowski participating. "We've only practiced a couple days. We've got a long way to go, but we'll see how it goes." While it is just OTAs where there is no contact, it's a sign Gronkowski will be fully healthy entering the season, which does not happen too often. Last season he battled a hamstring injury and wasn't really his normal self until Week 4 or 5. A healthy Gronkowski is bad news for the rest of the league. In the four seasons he's played at least 15 games, he's averaged 12.5 touchdowns per season. Playing that much this season has some financial incentives that come along with it. That would likely allow him to reach the highest tier in his reworked deal and allow him to be the highest paid tight end in the NFL, making just over $10 million. So while a player being at OTAs really isn't a big deal, for Gronkowski it is given his past injury history. If Gronkowski stays healthy, it's likely he will have one of his best seasons ever given the talent surrounding him.

2. The Patriots added yet another receiver this week when they signed veteran Andrew Hawkins. He primarily plays in the slot, adding to the Patriots' large group at the position. As it stands now, the depth chart has Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Michell, Danny Amendola, Hawkins, Matthew Slater, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, Devin Lucien and DeAndrew White. Hawkins said he had offers from four other teams, which raises the question, why would he sign with the Patriots given his uphill battle to make the roster? Although players like Edelman and Amendola surely are ahead of him, they are no guarantee to stay healthy. If an injury were occur during training camp, Hawkins would be the perfect addition, especially after having him familiar with the system. New England simply seems to be making sure all its bases are covered and are protecting themselves in case one of its top receivers go down. For Hawkins, it gives him a chance to work with the best coach and quarterback ever to play the game, at least for a summer.

3. The Patriots made their assistant coaches available on Thursday prior to the OTA session open to the media. Running backs coach Ivan Fears is typically one of the coaches reporters enjoy speaking with the most, just because of his candidness and honestly. “Stop talking about shorts and t-shirts” Fears said. “Everybody looks good in shorts and t-shirts. Come on, man. Jeez. I better look good in shorts and t-shirts. Well, I’ve got to take that back. But, no, seriously, you know it doesn’t count.” Fears was speaking to OTAs and how little can be taken away from them since there are no pads. While he's right, it is the first time the media gets the chance to see the 2017 squad on the field, it is something to react to. But, it is worth noting that just because a player does well in OTAs, it doesn't mean it will necessarily translate into a good training camp and season.

4. Although OTAs are voluntary and don't mean much, don't tell that to 39-year-old Tom Brady, who is entering his 18th season in the league. It was hard to miss the quarterback's enthusiasm Thursday, even playing in rainy, 50-degree weather. He was yelling words of encouragement to his receivers all practice long, and celebrating big plays in team drills. One play that stood out most was him celebrating a touchdown hookup with running back D.J. Foster, which got a great photo of. This sends a message to the rest of the team that if Brady is taking OTAs seriously and having fun, they better be too.

5. One other takeaway from Thursday's session was the attention to detail Brady and Josh McDaniels have. McDaniels and Brady were working with a few of the running backs on slant-and-go routes. Brady and McDaniels were walking step-by-step with the backs showing how they should run to get the defender to bite on the slant. It was telling just how much time was going into detailing a route they may run only once or twice a game. This is one of the biggest differences when it comes to the Patriots and the rest of the NFL — attention to detail.

6. One of the NFL rule changes announced this week was the elimination of cutting rosters during training camp from 90 players to 70 players. Now there will only be one cut, 90 players to the final 53 players. This will make the fourth preseason game more competitive with more players fighting for roster spots, but it will create a crazy scenario where up to 37 players on every team won't know their fate at the same time. The day after cut day will feature hundreds of players being available and teams potentially scrambling to add a few. As it relates to the Patriots, they don't have many roster spots available during camp as most teams. Players No. say 65-90 on the roster have almost no shot at making the team, but often times other teams value players more who were with the Patriots at one time.

7. This was a big weekend for Belichick with the NCAA Final Four in town. Belichick hosted the BC women's team at practice on Thursday and at night spoke at the NCAA Division 1 banquet. On Friday he stopped by a few of the men's practices on the Gillette Stadium gamefield and then at night hosted a talk with lacrosse legend Paul Rabil. Lacrosse means a great deal to Belichick and his family, and it was clear he was in his element all weekend.