FOXBORO -- Patriots practice seemed dead at the start. No sun. No music. No energy.
Players are used to having some kind of beat to warm-up to early in the day, whether it's country, or rap, or Bon Jovi blaring over the outdoor speakers. When nothing came on at the start of Sunday's practice, players wondered what the deal was.
Eventually some music was introduced to the practice, but it wasn't until later in the day that the team was visibly fired up thanks to a spark from one of their most talented -- and most animated -- teammates.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski served the Patriots a shot of his own special brand of enthusiasm during an 11-on-11 period. He started by shaking free of Patrick Chung and picking off the tops of his cleats a hard-to-handle pass from Tom Brady for a touchdown. Excitedly, and perhaps not entirely aware of his surroundings, he chucked the football into a crowded community relations tent.
Four plays later, Gronkowski was back at it again. This time, he beat Jamie Collins to the back corner of the end zone for another acrobatic reception for a touchdown. He flung the football high into the air, and headed over to the crowd under the tent to high-five the same people he nearly pegged.
Despite the steady rainfall, the hundreds of fans close by were roaring.
"After that first play, I accidentally threw the ball and I wasn’t sure if I hit someone or not, but I didn’t," Gronkowski said. "It was all good. You know, making sure someone wasn’t paying attention or not. So then the next time I scored right there I just ran by, saw them all cheering, so I was like ‘Why not go and high-five them?’ So, they were all excited. It’s cool to get the crowd involved, get the energy up, and it felt like it did."
Not only was the crowd into it, but Gronkowski's over-the-top practice celebrations seemed to invigorate his teammates as well.
When Jimmy Garoppolo took over at quarterback, it took him only two plays to find tight end Martellus Bennett running a fade pattern similar to the one Gronkowski had just executed. Bennett hung onto the pass despite tight coverage from safety Jordan Richards, and he mimicked Gronkowski's celebration from earlier, lofting the ball straight up into the air. Gronkowski ran over to his teammate for a flying side-bump, and Brady made his way over to congratulate Bennett as well.
Three plays after that, Garoppolo found undrafted tight end Bryce Williams for a touchdown what seemed to be a nearly identical route. This time, almost the entirety of the Patriots offense mobbed Williams, including Gronkowski.
"There’s energy every day, bringing it," Gronkowski said. "But I definitely felt like it ramped up when it came to team [drills]. But why wouldn’t it? I mean, it’s team. That’s when everything counts the most, but you’ve got to have energy throughout the whole time working on technique and individual drills. But I feel like definitely today when team hit it was a little more ramped up, which is good."
Gronkowski's ebullience flies because of his talent level. When you've already established yourself as one of the best tight ends in the history of the game, you're allowed to act the way he does. At one point, during a one-on-one drill, he laughed audibly and high-stepped into the end zone -- something that might not fly had it been, say, undrafted rookie tight end Steven Scheu.
Gronkowski said he hasn't heard about any Patriots defenders being annoyed by his exuberance, although linebacker Dont'a Hightower chucked a football at Gronkowski's back after a touchdown celebration on Friday.
He insists that when it comes to celebrations, there's an age-old rule applies for players on both sides of the ball: If you don't want someone celebrating, go ahead and stop them.
"We understand they make a play, you know, you see them celebrating and it’s part of the competition," Gronkowski said. "If you don’t want them celebrating, make a play and stop them. If they don’t want us to celebrate, they’ve got to stop us, so it goes both ways and that’s what’s cool about it."
Given that Gronkowski is healthy and therefore about as uncoverable as it gets in the NFL, the celebrations -- and the emotional spike that tends to come with them -- will in all likelihood continue right through the remainder of training camp.
Phil Perry can be followed on Twitter: @PhilAPerry