Gronkowski says back “improving a lot”

AP

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski talked to reporters Wednesday for the first time since his back surgery in June, and while he said he was getting healthier, he stopped well short of saying he’d be ready this week.

Do I expect to play on Sunday? I’m preparing every single day to the max of my ability and preparing every day to do the best I can,” Gronkowski said, via Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com. “When my number is called, that’s when I’ll play.”

Gronkowski has been practicing since Sunday, but he didn’t say much beyond the fact that he was “improving a lot” when asked about the specifics.

But he did admit he’s not where he’d normally be, since he’s been recovering from surgeries instead of working out this offseason, which adds a conditioning element to the timetable for his return.

“Do I feel physically prepared? I mean that’s kind of an obvious answer,” he said. “I couldn’t really do what I usually do all offseason, but that’s what this time is for right now, just progressing and working hard right now to the max of my ability.”

Getting Gronkowski back this week seems unrealistic, but getting him back soon will be important for the Patriots. While quarterback Tom Brady creates a pretty high floor for their passing game, it will be hard for them to reach their ceiling without his most trusted tight end target, during a season of turnover in their wide receiving corps.