Rob Gronkowski is back.
"It's not often that a Patriots player breaks his own news.
"In fact, it almost never happens.
"That's why it was such a refreshing surprise to hear Rob Gronkowski give such a clear, definitive answer about his health status for Sunday's season opener at Miami.
"'Yup, I'm good to go. I'll be playing,' he told a mob of media at his locker, adding with a laugh, 'And now you don't have to attribute it to an anonymous source.'
"The All-Pro tight end admitted that he didn't want a repeat of last season, when, for the first six weeks, he faced question after question about when he'd return to game action after coming off multiple offseason surgeries.
"This year, he'd been dealing with a right knee injury and has slowly worked his way back during training camp. Gronk did not take a single snap in preseason games, but said he was confident that he'd gotten enough contact work in practices to be ready for all-out action against the Dolphins.
"'I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure. No doubt about that,' he asserted.
"'The way we've worked the last few weeks, everything's been going well. No setbacks. Now, I just have to focus on the Miami Dolphins and getting better and getting stronger. I'm grinding every day to make my knee stronger. So far, it's come along pretty well. I'm ready to go, be out there, ready to hit. I'm just looking forward to playing again.'
"Although he admitted he was 'super excited' to be cleared to play this week, Gronkowski conceded he probably wouldn't be on the field for every snap.
"'Definitely not every single snap...whatever the coaches have, whatever we game plan this week will be good. It's going to be an honor to be back out there with my teammates.'"
Gronkowski told ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss he will probably wear a knee brace against the Dolphins:
"Gronkowski said he will most likely wear a brace over the knee but doesn't plan to change his style of play. After months of challenging rehabilitation, he flashed several smiles and laughed a few times while answering questions from reporters Monday.
"'It feels good to be out here now this week, preparing for the Dolphins, knowing that I put myself in the best situation the last few weeks and few months to get back out here,' Gronkowski said. 'That was my plan the whole time -- to work as hard as I could so I'd be ready for this week.'
"'We were fully prepared. We saw he was on the 53-man roster so we have to be prepared for every combination,' Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Monday. 'He's an excellent player. He's been very productive throughout his career. So we will have a good plan in place...We will be ready for him, for sure.'"
Reiss says Gronkowski's return "means everything" for New England in a separate ESPN blog:
"That's when the question was asked to this reporter on the air: What does it mean for the Patriots?
"The answer: Everything.
"OK, that might be overstating it a bit given the team's prior success without Gronkowski, but it goes without saying that the Patriots' offense takes on a much different look with Gronkowski on the field. The first place to look is the red zone.
"Consider these stats from 2013:
"With Gronkowski on the field from Weeks 7-14, the Patriots had a 69 percent efficiency rate in the red zone.
"With Gronkowski sidelined from Weeks 1-6, and Weeks 15-17, it was 43.5 percent.
"So as the Patriots gradually ease Gronkowski into the mix, as they did last year when it took five games before he was playing every snap, one would think the Patriots want him on the field for every possible red zone play. That's where his 6-foot-6 frame and his unique skills show up most.
"Perhaps no better example of the effectiveness and attention Gronkowski draws in the red zone came in last year's 24-20 loss to (the) Carolina (Panthers) on Nov. 18. In the third quarter of that game, he lined up split wide left, fought through a jam to run a slant and dragged three defenders into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
"Then other times, the attention defenders gave to Gronkowski in the red zone opened opportunities for others.
"So while it might not be until a quarter of the way into the season that Gronkowski is an every-play option for the Patriots, the first place we'll be looking for him Sunday is inside the 20-yard line.
"That's where he does some of his most notable work."
The 25-year-old Gronkowski is entering his fifth NFL season. He has caught for 3,255 yards and 42 touchdowns on 226 receptions in 50 career regular-season games, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.