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Rob Gronkowski cleared to play, will avoid Pats' PUP

Rob Gronkowski has once again exceeded expectations.

Coach Bill Belichick announced Wednesday that the New England Patriots tight end has already been medically "cleared to play" and will avoid the physically unable to perform list.

"Rob's always worked hard," Belichick said. "He worked hard as a rookie. ... When he's here ... what we've seen is he's been consistent."

NFL Media's Albert Breer reported in June that Gronkowski was aiming for a Week 1 return from ACL surgery. Even if Belichick eases him back in with limited practice reps and occasional off days, this is excellent news for the Patriots offense.

Gronkowski's knee rehab went a lot smoother than previous surgeries. Barring a setback, he should be close to 100 percent when the season opens at Miami.

A healthy Gronk's impact cannot be overstated. Over the past two years, Tom Brady's statistics have mirrored Aaron Rodgers' with his All-Pro tight end on the field and Andy Dalton's when Gronkowski is sidelined.

After struggling mightily early last season with Gronkowski on the PUP list, Brady rebounded to average an NFL-high 35.75 points and 473.25 yards per game over a five-game stretch once Gronk got into game shape.

With Gronkowski healthy and Brady extra-motivated by a manufactured storyline that he's no longer an elite quarterback, the Patriots should have high expectations for the 2014 season.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" offers up team-by-team training camp previews of the NFC East and NFC West.

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