FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s a new era in New England. For the first time since 2009, the Patriots reported for training camp without Rob Gronkowski, and how things come together without the retired tight end is a top storyline.
“We don’t know. We’ll see,” Devin McCourty, a longtime Patriots captain who entered the NFL alongside Gronkowski in the 2010 draft, said Wednesday. “I think that’s the thing in football — the one thing that’s consistent is change. He looks like he’s having an awesome time on Instagram. I’m really happy for him being able to have a great career and leave the game on your own terms.”
If Gronkowski decided to come out of retirement — which his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said in March wouldn’t shock him — McCourty has little doubt how it would be received among players.
“With open arms, I’m sure,” he said. “For us as players, we don’t have time to think about that. I think at the end of the day he’ll do what’s best for him, but anybody that comes in this locker room is always welcomed with open arms, whether it’s from retirement, from your eighth team, it doesn’t matter.
“We accept all guys. We took my brother [Jason McCourty] in last year. He struggled for nine years in the NFL, so you talk about a guy like Gronk coming back, I think that’ll be a lot easier.”
But there are signs the Patriots aren’t planning on that. In the locker room, second-year receiver Braxton Berrios has already been given Gronkowski’s old spot.
The locker room is another place where the Patriots will notice Gronkowski’s void, according to captain Matthew Slater.
“Rob was one of a kind — obviously on the field, with what he’s able to do as a player, but I think his fun-loving spirit and personality, and his child-like joy that he brought each and every day to the workplace,” Slater said. “His humility; just a genuine human being. Certainly, those things are hard to come by in today’s time, so we’ll miss that.”
“There’s only one Gronk — you can’t replace that personality,” running back James White said. “He’s a great football player, but you’ve got to play with who’s out there. Everybody finds their roles. We have a great offensive coordinator [Josh McDaniels]. They’ll put people in the right place and see if we can go out there and succeed.”
Thin at tight end without Gronkowski, the Patriots agreed to a one-year deal with free agent Lance Kendricks, who played under McDaniels as a rookie with the Rams in 2011.
Meanwhile, receiver Julian Edelman will open training camp on the active/non-football injury list after sustaining a thumb injury that is expected to sideline him about three weeks, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Field Yates.