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Patriots owner Robert Kraft does some damage control over Tom Brady’s absence

Robert Kraft, not Bill Belichick, offered the Brady update. (Paul Abell/AP Images for NFL)

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick refused this week to talk about players who are skipping New England’s organized team activities, but owner Robert Kraft showed no reluctance when asked about Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski on Wednesday.

“I’ve been in communication with Tom. I think he’s very excited about the upcoming season,” Kraft told reporters Wednesday morning in Atlanta, where owners are holding their quarterly meetings. “These are voluntary workouts. I heard he’s in great shape.”

For the first time in eight years, Brady is skipping OTAs, fueling speculation about his mind-set after a season in which he reportedly feuded with Belichick over the presence and influence of his personal trainer.

And while these workouts are voluntary, voluntary carries a different meaning for NFL coaches, and Brady is the only NFL quarterback who is AWOL. Kraft sounded Wednesday as if he isn’t expecting Brady to practice with the team — which will hold OTAs each week until the middle of June — before it holds minicamp June 5-7. Minicamp attendance is mandatory, even for a multiple Super Bowl champion, and players are subject to fines for skipping that session.

“I can only say this — I know he’s very excited about being at minicamp and having a very special season this year,” Kraft said.

Kraft chalked up Brady’s absence to his family obligations and business interests rather than ill feelings toward Belichick, even though Brady sounded a little hurt in a recent conversation with Jim Gray, saying he’d “plead the Fifth [Amendment]” when asked whether he feels appreciated by Kraft, Belichick and the Patriots.

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“Man, that is a tough question. I think everybody in general wants to be appreciated at work and in their professional life. There are a lot of people that appreciate me more than — way more than I ever would have thought was possible as part of my life,” he said. “You have different influences in your life, and I think the people that I work with are trying to get the best out of me. They are trying to treat me in a way that is going to get the best out of me, and I have to get the best out of myself.

“What I am learning as I get older is it comes from within — the joy, the happiness — those things come from within the inside. To seek that from others, from outside influences, people you work with, people that cheer against you or cheer with you, I feel like it comes from within for me. I am trying to build up what is within me so I can be the best for me so that I can be the best for other people.”

During the season, an ESPN report detailed a schism in the Belichick-Brady-Kraft collaboration, one that required a postseason sit-down. With his 41st birthday approaching in August, the quarterback is “blessed to have three children now and he’s built a number of businesses and has certain responsibilities,” Kraft said. “I think it’s very hard for him to fulfill those during the season and the commitment that he has to football.”

Brady reportedly has been working out with his controversial trainer and business partner Alex Guerrero at his TB12 facility near Gillette Stadium. Kraft didn’t address those workouts, saying, “My point of view, nothing’s changed, everything is good, and I think [Brady is] very excited about coming back. And I know we’re excited to have him.”

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As for Brady’s exact whereabouts, Kraft joked that, “I don’t have a personal tracker. The good news out of this, I learned this over time, is … we’re in a business of quality depth management. A lot of other players are able to get reps that they wouldn’t get, and go down the learning curve. During the course of a season, a number of things happen where you can’t plan, and it’s good to have as much preparation as you can.”

Brady isn’t the only player missing from the New England sessions. Gronkowski also is skipping OTAs after an offseason in which the tight end considered retirement and reportedly wants a new contract. Like Brady, he will be at minicamp, according to Kraft.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll be there as well,” he said. “We all love Gronk.”

All of which is more than Belichick is saying. Asked Tuesday about Brady and Gronkowski, the coach said only, “I’m not going to talk about the guys that are not here.”

Mark Maske in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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