After Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski is arguably the most important player on the Patriots‘ roster. The 29-year-old tight end is entering his ninth NFL season and coming off a 69-catch, 1,084-yard, 8-touchdown campaign. And unlike two years ago, when a lingering injury forced him to miss the entire preseason as well as the first two regular-season games, Gronk is completely healthy.

Oh, it’s the best,” Gronkowski told CBS Sports’ Evan Washburn in a one-on-one interview Thursday from Patriots’ training camp. “Coming out here feeling good, just working on my craft now. Don’t got to worry about anything … I can work on the little things so I can compete to the best of my ability.”

But Gronkowski isn’t sugar-coating the realities of training camp, which he described — repeatedly — with a single word: Grind.

“Camp is always a challenge, especially at the beginning,” he said. It’s just a grind — it’s a straight grind the whole time. You just gotta put your mind to it mentally, physically and just gotta keep coming out here and keep grinding. It’s not just yourself that’s grinding it’s the whole team that’s grinding.

“Everyone’s putting the work in together, everyone’s pushing each other to get through. There’s hot humid days out here, just no matter what the conditions are you have to come out here and compete and you’ve got to get better.”

Gronk’s words echo coach Bill Belichick’s “Do your job” mantra, in part because he’s heard it non-stop for nearly a decade but also because the Patriots will begin the season with serious questions at wide receiver. The team just released Jordan Matthews and replaced him with veteran Eric Decker. They’ll also be without Julian Edelman for the first four weeks of the regular season and the top of their depth chart currently features Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson.

In the meantime, Gronkowski is happy to help these new faces get acclimated to playing in New England.

“[The new guys come in] and you just have to show them that we work hard at practice, that we’re trying to get better every time we step out onto the field and overall, just get better every day and come together as a team.”

Gronk also embraces the added responsibilities that comes with being not only Brady’s favorite target but one of the league’s most reliable pass catchers.

“I definitely appreciate it but the thing is, I have to keep showing up every single day,” he told Washburn. “I have to keep showing them that I’m reliable. Every time there’s a run behind me, a play-action pass called or just a pass call that’s coming my way, I’ve got to be reliable. I’ve got to show then out there at practice that I can do it too. …

“We’re having fun,” he continued before reminding us one last time that training camp is also a lot of work. “The boys are having fun but it’s just a grind. It’s a grind too and sometimes you’ve gotta put your mind to it, know that it’s going to be a grind, know that you’ve got to stay focused and then there’s times to have fun out here. … As of now, man, we’re having a blast but we’re also working hard to get better.”

The Patriots’ open the preseason next Thursday against the Redskins.


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