FOXBORO -- When there was an obsession over Patriots workloads earlier in camp, it felt for some reason like a new phenomenon. And maybe it was as it related to Tom Brady. But he's 41 now. He took more time off in the spring than he's used to. His reps in certain practices were obviously scaled back.
But when it comes to dissecting workloads and overanalyzing snap counts, that's par for the course when it comes to Rob Gronkowski. The game's top tight end has also long been one of its most injury-prone, making his summertime participation in Patriots practices and preseason games one of the most intriguing parts of camp on a year-in, year-out basis.
Though Gronkowski finished last season contemplating retirement, he also finished it relatively healthy. That means there's no reading into how well he's cutting or planting or making mid-air adjustments to back-shoulder throws in practice in July and August.
Gronkowski's preseason game snap counts can always generate discussion, however. And he helped contribute to the chatter on Sunday when he met with reporters at Gillette Stadium and was asked if he found it to be beneficial when he saw playing time in exhibition games No. 2 and 3 last year.
"I mean, it’s always beneficial whenever you go out there in the preseason," he said. "You want to go out there, get the timing down, get some live reps. So, just going to prepare like a normal game this week like I’m playing, and then it’s up to the coaches."
That Gronkowski played at all last preseason was a veer from the norm for him. The 46 snaps he saw (14 against the Texans, 32 against the Lions) were his first preseason plays since 2012. He ended up being named a First Team All-Pro and helping his team to the Super Bowl. His argument, then, that "it's always beneficial" to play in preseason games may have some merit.
But in reality, his preseason workload has been a less-than-stellar gauge for how his season will play out. Consider this. Gronkowski didn't see time in any preseason games in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. Those seasons ended in a torn ACL, a Super Bowl title and an All-Pro nod, an AFC Championship appearance and an All-Pro nod, and back surgery.
Had it not been for hellacious hits from TJ Ward and Earl Thomas, Gronkowski might've been a four-time All-Pro in that four-year stretch of no preseason work.
Good with preseason snaps. Good without them.
The Patriots will account for myriad inputs when determining how much Gronkowski should play this preseason, or if he should play at all. The number of snaps he played last season -- his 1,078, including playoffs, were more than any tight end last season -- are part of the equation. How he's responded to the work given in camp thus far could play a role as well.
If he's going to see any time, odds are it would be this week against the Panthers. But because he played as much as he did last season, because he's not returning from an injury and there's not as much "rust" to shake off as there might've been last summer, it'd come as no surprise if Gronkowski remained on the sidelines Friday night in Charlotte.
Even if Gronkowski wants to go, the risk and reward of playing him just doesn't seem to add up for the Patriots. If timing is the big benefit . . . well, even Gronkowski admitted his timing with Brady was pretty good if not perfect.
"I mean, I would say we’ve got some good chemistry over the years, but we’re always working on it," he said. "We’re always looking to improve, and we’re always looking to get better."
But does improvement require preseason game action? History would suggest it does not.