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Brady on Gronk: ‘We’ve still got a lot of good players’

In this Nov. 2, 2016, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski faces reporters during an NFL football news conference in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
In this Nov. 2, 2016, file photo, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski faces reporters during an NFL football news conference in Foxborough, Mass. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
By Jimmy Golen Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots went back to practice without Rob Gronkowski on Friday as the 2015 All-Pro tight end prepared for season-ending back surgery.

It didn’t look much different than a lot of their workouts this season.

“We’ve had some experience I think this year being without him,” quarterback Tom Brady said a day after the team announced that Gronkowski is expected to miss the rest of the season recovering from a herniated disk in his back. “It’s not something that you want to deal with. But at some point in the year, based on how long the season is, you’re always going to deal with something.”

One of the dominant tight ends in NFL history, Gronkowski’s biggest struggle is often to stay on the field. He has had ankle and knee surgery once, three operations on his forearm, and two previous back operations. He was the 2014 Comeback Player of the Year, a year after he played in just seven games because of injuries to his back, forearm and knee.

The 2010 second-round draft pick has already missed three weeks this season and had a limited role in three others – the fifth year in a row that he hasn’t been able to play in every game.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday he is disappointed for Gronkowski, praising his work and his contributions to the team. Brady made it clear that he still has plenty of targets for this weekend’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, even without the three-time All-Pro.

“We’ve still got a lot of good players,” Brady said. “We’ll keep battling without him. We’ve got a lot of tough guys in the locker room still, and we’ll see what we can make of this season. We were off to a good start and we’ve got to keep it going.”

After spending the first half of the season on the injury report with a hamstring problem, Gronkowski was hurt again on Nov. 13. He took a shot in the chest from Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas that Gronkowski said was “probably one of the hardest I’ve got hit in my career.” He missed the Nov. 20 game against San Francisco; when he returned last week against the New York Jets, he left late in the first quarter with a back injury.

He did not practice this week.

On Thursday, the team and Gronkowski’s family issued a joint statement saying the hit in the Seattle game resulted in a pulmonary contusion to his lung, but doctors cleared him to return. Against the Jets, though, “Rob began to experience significant back and leg pain.”

“It has been determined that it is in Rob’s best long-term interest to undergo surgery to address his lower back injury,” the statement said. “We do not expect that he will be able to play for the remainder of the 2016 season, but will await the results of (Friday’s) surgery before making a final determination.”

One Gronkowski returned to the Patriots when the team re-signed fullback Glenn, Rob’s brother, to the practice squad.

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