BOSTON (CBS) – Receiver Julian Edelman hit the practice field for the first time this season on Thursday, and with all the turnover at that position for the New England Patriots, is the only one that really has experience with quarterback Tom Brady.

Because of this, Brian Lowe of says Edelman — if healthy — will be a big part of the New England offense this season.

“It’s really amazing that Edelman is going into his fifth year, and he really is the only guy with experience catching passes from Brady. It’s Edelman, and then everybody else,” Lowe said on Thursday night’s The Adam Jones Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “I really think if he’s healthy, he’s going to be the guy Brady relies on second-most behind (Danny) Amendola.”

Read: Edelman Off PUP, Looking To ‘Catch Up To The Train’

“[Edelman] was talking about it today that the biggest asset he has, even though he’s behind physically, is his knowledge of the playbook and his knowledge of the system,” said Lowe. “That’s not to overvalue Edelman, because I don’t think hes any kind of number one or number two receiver. But I think early on, especially if (Rob) Gronkowski isn’t there and they have to be patient with the rookie receivers, Edelman could be huge if he is healthy.”

The Patriots will rely heavily on their two rookie receivers this season, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and so far the two have been impressive in camp according to Lowe. The Patriots released veteran receiver Donald Jones last week, a sign that the rookies are picking up the complex New England offense.

“It told me they’re happy with the progress and feel optimistic with these younger guys,” Lowe said of the Jones release. “I’ve been impressed what I’ve seen with them, but I keep in the back of my mind that we’ve been impressed and seen impressive training camps from younger receivers in the past, and it doesn’t necessarily translate into the regular season. They just have to hope at least one or two of these guys emerge, because they’re going to need them come September.”

Read: Gift Ideas For Tom Brady’s 36th Birthday

Such a big emphasis is on the receivers because of the unknown surrounding All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. He is still recovering from offseason arm and back surgery, and there is a very good chance he starts the season on the PUP list. Gronk has been around the team though during camp, soaking it all despite not participating.

“It has been a little unusual to see a PUP guy out there as much as he has. A lot of times when we see PUP guys out on the field they’re doing strength and conditioning. I feel like Gronkowski has been out there more as an eyes and ears role,” said Lowe. “The other day he spent quite a bit of time chatting with Belichick. Each day we see him behind the line of scrimmage watching practice.”

So when can we expect Gronk to return?

“I think he’s staying into it from a mental standpoint; it’s just way too early to know what he’s doing physically,” added Lowe. “He’s probably not quite there physically because if he was, we would see him do a little more — not full drills in full uniform, but a little bit more. I’m still not ruling out in-season PUP, which would keep him out six games. If I had to bet though, I would say he doesn’t start on PUP, starts on the active roster but misses three or four games.”

With the first three games of the season against the Bills, Jets and Buccaneers, Lowe said the Patriots shouldn’t miss Gronk too much early on, and can afford to give him a little extra time to recover.

“Personally, I would sit him out the first three or four games if he’s not yet 100-percent,” said Lowe. “Not that that is any guarantee he would be healthy at the end of the season, but I just think the wear and tear on this guy the way he plays over a 16 game season, plus you hope a few more playoff games, it really adds up. I play more of a cautious role, and I think that’s the way they’re looking right now.”

Who could step up in Gronk’s absence from a tight end standpoint? Listen to the entire interview with Brian Lowe to find out:


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