The return of Rob Gronkowski is likely welcome news to the guys in red, Ryan Mallett and Tom Brady. (Stew Milne / AP)

Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned to the New England Patriots’ practice field — in full pads and practicing with the team for the first time since he underwent surgery on his back and a series of operations on his arm.

Gronkowski stretched with his teammates and participated in position drills, the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported. Gronkowski worked with the team’s other tight ends during the brief window that media members are allowed to watch practice.

Gronkowski isn’t expected to be ready in time for the Patriots’ Sept. 8 opener or their game the following Thursday, but he’s progressing and likely to play this month. Another sign of the Patriots’ intent is that they kept him on the 53-man active roster rather than placing him on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which would have made him ineligible to play or practice the first six weeks of the season.

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.