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Rob Gronkowski 'doubtful' for Patriots' season opener

We've known since May that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was expected to be sidelined until late September following his latest forearm and back surgeries.

A source updated on Gronkowski's progress now confirms to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport that the tight end is "doubtful" for the season opener versus the Buffalo Bills. At this point, the forearm injury is no longer an issue. It's the microscopic lumbar discectomy procedure on his back that is still being rehabbed, according to Rapoport.

The big question now is whether Gronkowski will miss the first six games of the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The good news is that Gronkowski has been running, NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Monday. The 2011 All-Pro is still regaining core strength and taking care not to rush his recovery.

Although Tom Brady struggled down the stretch last season with Gronkowski out of the lineup, he's been surgical in preseason action with undrafted rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld taking on major roles.

The Patriots are expected to open the season with either Daniel Fells or former New York Giants tight end Jake Ballard in Gronkowski's in-line role while Sudfeld plays Aaron Hernandez's old "flex" position. Versatile tailback Shane Vereen -- featured as a "Joker" in offseason and training-camp practices -- will also be asked to pick up a good portion of the missing tight ends' slack in the passing game.

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