Rob Gronkowski has been just a spectator so far this preseason. (FILE:USA TODAY Images)

So far Patriots fans haven’t seen Rob Gronkowski this preseason, and there has been plenty of speculation about when the next time we may see #87 back on the football field.

He started the preseason on PUP and some had thought he’d start the regular season the same way. ¬†Fortunately on Monday, the news became a little more encouraging after the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian reported that the veteran tight end may be back sooner than expected.

According to Guregian Gronkowski’s recovery is “right on schedule” and he’s reportedly even recovered to the point where he would be close to playing in their season opener in Buffalo. ¬†However, Guregian writes that the more realistic time frame where he would be in “football shape” would potentially see him back in time for New England’s Week 3 against the Tampa Buccaneers.

It’s definitely encouraging, especially considering the setbacks he’s suffered this offseason with his forearm surgery as well as the fact he underwent back surgery in June.

Obviously New England will take their time and be cautious to make sure he’s ready when he does indeed return. ¬†They’ve been fortunate so far during training camp with the emergence¬†of Zach Sudfeld, who has had a terrific camp, as well as strong performances from Michael Hoomanawanui. But Gronk’s return is clearly critical to their success this season, and fortunately it appears he’ll be back sooner rather than later.