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Rob Gronkowski’s status still unclear as his New England return looms

The All-Pro tight end hasn’t been spotted on the Bucs’ practice field this week.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski , right, injured his ribs on this tackle from Rams linebacker Terrell Lewis during the second half of Sunday's game in Los Angeles.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski , right, injured his ribs on this tackle from Rams linebacker Terrell Lewis during the second half of Sunday's game in Los Angeles. [ JAE C. HONG | AP ]
Published Sep. 30, 2021

TAMPA — Three days before his mega-hyped return to New England, tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t participated in a Bucs practice this week.

Gronkowski, who took a hard shot to the right side of his rib cage in Sunday’s 34-24 loss to the Rams, was a non-participant for the second day in a row Thursday and wasn’t even spotted on the field during the brief portion of practice open to reporters.

Afterward, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich deferred questions about Gronkowski’s status for Sunday’s game against the Patriots to head coach Bruce Arians, who is expected to provide an update Friday.

Gronkowski, 32, briefly exited the sideline after sustaining the third-quarter hit from Terrell Lewis but re-entered the game. Afterward, Arians said X-rays came back negative.

It’s plausible Gronkowski could participate in Friday’s practice and Saturday’s walk-through and be ready to play against the Patriots, with whom he logged Hall-of-Fame credentials and won three Super Bowls in nine seasons.

Edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) also didn’t participate for the second day in a row and isn’t expected to be available Sunday. Nor is tailback Giovani Bernard, who reportedly is dealing with a mild MCL sprain and hasn’t practiced this week.

Cornerback Jamel Dean, who suffered a knee injury in Los Angeles, practiced on a limited basis for the second day in a row. Kick returner Jaydon Mickens, who missed the Rams game with an abdomen issue, returned to practice as a full participant after limited work Wednesday.

“Still got a couple days to get ready,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said of Dean, a third-year veteran thrust into a starting role due to Sean Murphy-Bunting’s elbow injury.

“You play 100 percent your first year, after that it’s all tolerance, pain tolerance. So we’ll see how he looks after a couple of days.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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