Gronkowski On Road To Recovery

Patriots News & Notes: Rob Gronkowksi on the mend, Deion Branch returns, Chad Ochocinco's new deal and more...

Gronk On The Mend
  --Tight end Rob Gronkowski is still wearing a walking boot as he recovers from February left ankle surgery that initially left him in a cast. But the All-Pro remains quite optimistic about his health and swift recovery from the injury that limited him in New England's Super Bowl loss.

   "It's great. I'm like six and a half weeks out of surgery. I'm just getting better every day, taking it week by week and day by day," Gronkowski said recently with his trademark smile. "I'm walking around now. Everything is on pace. Hopefully I'm 100 percent when it comes down to the time I'm supposed to be."

   Gronkowski hopes to be out of the walking boot in the near future.

   "That's all in a couple more weeks," Gronkowski said. "I'm just getting better every single day. I feel way better than last week. I feel way better since the first day of the surgery. It's coming along really well. Here on out, day by day, whatever I can do I'll be doing it. I'm definitely trying to get out there as soon as possible."

Insider's Take:  Gronk will be ready for camp, probably even OTAs which are typically set in May.  His injury late in the playoffs exposed the Patriots' lack of depth at the position.  Daniel Fells (Broncos) was signed to a deal to help with that issue, but the Patriots are also looking at tight ends for the 2012 NFL Draft.   More in INSIDER'S LOUNGE

New Position Coach
   --With Patriots tight end coach Brian Ferentz having moved on to take a position on his father's staff at Iowa, New England's dynamic young tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will have a new coach in 2012. The Patriots have made no announcement, but the likely in-house candidate is George Godsey. Godsey served as an offensive assistant in New England last season, focusing a lot of his attention on the development of rookie third-string quarterback Ryan Mallett.

   Though Gronkowski knows there will be an adjustment period, he doesn't expect the change in coaching to be an issue.

   "(Ferentz) is a great coach. I'm definitely going to miss the guy. I learned a lot from him," Gronkowski said. "I'm definitely going to apply what I learned from him in the following years. Just because he left doesn't mean I can't still use his techniques, his way that he runs things. It's just another coach that's going to be adding on to the things that he taught me. I'm just going to get better in every way and just apply whatever the coaches teach me."

Deion Branch Returns

[Editor's Note: Branch was officially Signed today]

   --Wide receiver Deion Branch re-signed with the team on a one-year deal. He told WEEI Radio in Boston that he didn't even consider testing free-agent waters or joining another team.

   "I didn't have that thought. I didn't even want to allow that to creep into my mind," Branch said. "My biggest thing is that I want to make sure I retire a Patriot, whenever that comes about, whether it's two years from now, three years from now, who knows? That's my goal, and once I sat down with coach (Bill Belichick) and the front office, they felt the same way."

   After catching 51 passes for 702 yards with five touchdowns last season, Branch returns to a new-look receiving corps for the Patriots that's added Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez so far this offseason.

   He looks forward to the competition.

   "It brings out the best in you," Branch said. "That's what it is all about. Competition is always good. I think going into this year, it's going to be very exciting to see what this next receiving group will look like for next season. I'm very excited to get started within a couple weeks with the offseason program. I think that's where everything starts, then it's going to roll into minicamp and training camp."

Insider's Take:  Deion Branch will have to fight the stockpile of new faces at the receiver position in 2012 just to make the roster. The team typically carries 10-12 receivers in camp.  Last year the Patriots had six  receivers on the roster in January (Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Wes WelkerTiquan Underwood, Julian Edelman and Matt Slater) Dorin Dickerson was on the practice squad.  That should be a similar story in 2012.

Restructured Ocho Still Not A Lock For Roster Spot
   --Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco restructured his contract with New England. The receiver, who caught just 15 passes in his first year with the Patriots while pocketing $6 million, cut his 2012 salary from $3 to $1 million as he looks to compete for a job in training camp.

   What will Bill Belichick's expectations be for the former Pro Bowl receiver in his second season in New England?

   "I think I have the same expectations for all our players, it doesn't make a difference who they are or what year they are in -- come in, work hard, be prepared, go out there and compete on the field. There is no difference for any player - first year, second year, 10th year. They are here to play football for us, that's what they need to do," Belichick said.

Insider's Take:  Ochocinco may be back, purely due to the respect the team has for the former star receiver. But returning to camp with a restructured contract will not guarantee Ochcocinco a roster spot in September.  Reportedly slow to pick up the Patriots offensive scheme, Ochocinco will have to work hard to improve in that area to get on the same page with Tom Brady.  A shortened offseason is the likely culprit in Ochocinco's struggles. There will be no such excuse to fall back on this year. 15 catches for 276 yards is not enough to justify a roster spot or his salary.

No Light At The End Of The Tunnel?
   --Left tackle Matt Light, who appears ready to call it a career after 12 seasons in New England protecting Tom Brady's back, was elected to the NFLPA executive council at the group's annual meetings.

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "You want to get started on that trip? You might want to go to Paris then Amsterdam then swing down to Rome and then back to London for the game. Maybe we'll go to Moscow for an afternoon walkthrough." - A joking Bill Belichick at the NFL meetings when asked about his team's scheduled late October trip to London to face the Rams.

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