Sunday 7: How will Patriots react when Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski potentially return this week?

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Photo credit Jim O'Connor/USA Today Sports

1. After not attending any of the voluntary offseason workouts, it appears Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will make their returns to the Patriots this coming week for mandatory minicamp Tuesday-Thursday. While it has not been confirmed, Robert Kraft said they would when speaking at the NFL owners meetings a few weeks ago. Some might wonder how they will be received by their teammates when they step onto the field, as they have been off doing their own thing while everyone else has been grinding away at the workouts and OTAs. It doesn’t appear it will be an issue for anyone on the team and they will be glad to have them back. “Yeah, it’s just business as usual,” safety Duron Harmon said to WEEI.com Thursday. “We’ve had the last couple of years people who haven’t came [to OTAs] and it hasn’t been as big of a story. With those two guys it’s a little bit different, but we know they will be ready to go. They are the one of the most professional guys we have in the locker room. Tom has always been about his business and you could say the same about Gronk. When they come back I know they will be ready to go and we’ll just work just like we always do. They are our brothers. We love them and can’t wait for them to get back.” Given Brady and Gronkowski’s experience in the system and devotion to working out on their own, it wouldn’t seem like anything will be slowed down with them coming back. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see these three sessions this week have more intensity than the OTAs did just because the two best players on the team are back on the field.

2. There was a great turnout as always Friday night at Harvard Stadium for Tom Brady’s Best Buddies game. Current Patriots who were in attendance were Julian Edelman, James White, David Andrews and Ted Karras. In addition, several past Patriots teammates — Christian Fauria, Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi and Dan Koppen all participated as well. Fittingly, the game ended in a 112-112 tie, a game Brady played quarterback for both teams. It also gave White the chance to catch a few passes from the quarterback, something he hasn’t been able to do this offseason. “It’s always good to be around him,” White said. “He’s a great guy. He’s the reason for this game right here. He does a lot of great work, not just here, but all over the world. It’s pretty special how he’s such a great player and still gets involved in the community. It makes you try to get involved, too.”

3. A working theory on Brady’s absence from these OTAs is this has been known for a long time and Bill Belichick has been made aware of his plans. While he may not be thrilled with the quarterback being absent, he needs to make some concessions for him given his status of being 40 years old and also his salary. Brady certainly isn’t paid like he should, so it could be seen as he’s making up some of the money with all his sponsorship deals and needs to make all the appearances he’s done in recent weeks to appease them. Given no other quarterback has been brought in, from this perspective Belichick has known Brady’s plans for months and him missing OTAs did not come as a surprise.

4. While it is only the first week of June, things seem to be a little concerning with Malcolm Mitchell. After having knee issues in college, the receiver missed all of last season. He attended the first OTA session a few weeks ago, but hasn’t been spotted on the field since. Missing all of last season and still not appearing to be 100 percent is not a good sign. It is only the spring, but after missing all of last year, it seems Mitchell would be doing everything he could to be on the field and make up for lost time.

5. The media was able to see Dont’a Hightower on the field for the first time this spring on Thursday when he was present for the second OTA session open to the media. The linebacker appeared a little thinner than in the past and could be him trying to play a little faster this coming season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up more in the middle of the defense instead of mostly on the edge like last season. He’s working his way back from shoulder surgery last October and said he isn’t quite 100 percent yet, but plans on participating in everything leading up to training camp.

6. One thing that stands out with rookie quarterback Danny Etling is his arm strength. The LSU product can sling it all over the field and although it was mostly check downs in Thursday’s 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, in individual drills it was clear he has a strong arm. He’s also been a beneficiary of Brady’s absence, as he’s seen more reps and it will be interesting to see how that changes this week.

7. After mandatory minicamp this coming week there’s one week last of OTAs (June 12, June 14 and June 15) with the media attending the June 12 session. After that, the Patriots and the rest of the NFL, will take the rest of June and most of July off before training camp kicks off at the end of the month.