''With all due respect to Rob, I'm glad he feels the way he does,'' Belichick said during a conference call Tuesday. ''But, in the end, we'll have to make the decision that we feel is best for the team and we'll do that as we go through the week.''
Belichick keeps a tight lid on information in Foxborough - especially when it concerns injuries. So it was surprising when Gronkowski told reporters Monday he was ''super excited'' to be returning this week - before Belichick said anything of the sort.
''It's going to be an honor to be back out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game,'' he said. ''It just feels good in my mind to know that I'll be out there with my boys, working hard, grinding with them, being out there.''
Gronkowski said he was just getting it out of the way because he figured he'd be asked about it all week.
Not so fast.
''Well, I'm glad that Rob's optimistic about his situation,'' Belichick said. ''We'll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody and see where everybody is at and do what we feel like is best for the team.''
A two-time Pro Bowl selection who has set receiving records for tight ends, Gronkowski was injured in the 11th game of the 2012 season when he broke his arm blocking for a late, meaningless extra point. He appeared in seven games last season, catching 39 passes, four for touchdowns, before tearing up his right knee on Dec. 8 against the Cleveland Browns.
He had ligament surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee, and has not played this exhibition season.
Asked Monday if he feels ready, Gronkowski said, ''Definitely.''
''I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure, no doubt about it,'' he added. ''Now I just have to focus on the Miami Dolphins, just keep focusing on getting better and getting stronger.''
In all, Gronkowski has 226 catches with 42 touchdowns in 50 regular-season games, showing he can dominate the game in a way few tight ends have.
''Rob has been practicing, and we've been doing some different things, building our offensive system and packages as we go throughout the course of the year. He's been a part of that,'' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. ''Whatever we can or are available to use him to do - however big, small, whatever the decision is at the end of the week - and he'll be ready to do it.''
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