Rob Gronkowski back at Patriots practice Sunday

Pam Oliver caught a football to the face Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski returned to Patriots practice Sunday. (USATSI)

Nothing would make Patriots fans happier than seeing Rob Gronkowski back on the field. It might be happening sooner than later: the tight end was spotted working with the team in practice on Sunday.

Multiple reports from Patriots practice indicate that Gronk was working with the team on the first day after New England got down to a 53-man roster.

Instead of placing Gronk on the PUP list to start the season (and thus costing him the first six weeks of the season, both games and practice), the Patriots kept the tight end on the roster. Though there's bound to be excessive smokescreening on Gronk's return date, it sure does sound like he's going to get back on the field faster than expected.

According to Mary Paoletti of CSN New England, Gronk did stretching and ran with this teammates and "thought he did hit a pad held by a coach, he didn't appear to be going at full speed."

Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston reports that the tight end "did not go through the full practice with the team" although he did participate more than expected.

Fellow tight end Michael Hoomanawanui said that having Gronk around manages to lift up "everyone else's spirits."

"Gronk is obviously a big part of our team," Hoomanawanui said. "He is a great football player. He's a great guy to be around. There are no real highs and lows with Rob; all the stuff he's gone through you would kind of think it would be human nature to see that. He's taken his punches and he always seems to stay up high. To see that, and be around, I think it lifts everyone else's spirits, too. It's something I admire about him, not only as a football player but as a person."

"He looked good. He looked almost Gronk-esque."

Expecting Gronk to be back by Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season against the Bills is a big stretch, but as I wrote last week it sure does make sense that he'd be ready for something like Week 3 or 4. We've heard reports that lend credence to that notion, the Pats are starting to really bring him back into the fold and now Gronk is spotted at practice. It's all coming together for an earlier-than-expected return.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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