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Patriots CB Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) says he's 'healthy' but uncertain of return to practice

There was plenty of calamity to go around in the New England Patriots' 2023 season.

Offensive ineptitude and the impending conclusion to the Bill Belichick era garnered the majority of the headlines, but cornerback Christian Gonzalez emerging as an AP Defensive Rookie of the Year contender only to be lost for the season with a shoulder injury certainly played a big role in the Pats limping to a four-win campaign.

Gonzalez deemed himself "healthy" and "ready" on Tuesday when speaking to reporters, but would not confirm a return date for practicing or declare himself 100 percent.

"I'm focused on getting better and what I gotta do," Gonzalez said when asked if he'd be a full participant for organized team activities later in May. "And rehabbing and practicing. That's kinda out of my control."

Pressed further on whether he was 100-percent healthy and ready to hit the field, the 2023 first-round pick remarked that that was not a question he could answer.

"I can't give you that answer," Gonzalez said. "I'm not the doctor, I don't know. I'm listening to what they tell me to do."

And so it would seem that Gonzalez, despite an easy smile and optimistic wording, isn't set for a return to the field just yet.

The Oregon product was a rather instant success for the Patriots defense. Starting in each of the Pats' first four games, Gonzalez garnered an overall PFF grade of 80.8, accounting himself well across the board -- coverage, run defense and pass rush.

The promising start was stopped in Week 4 when he suffered a torn labrum.

As spring has sprung, Gonzalez is focused on getting his shoulder -- and overall game -- better.

"I'm good. Healthy, excited to go," he said. "Focused on just getting better, coming in every day and just keep getting back to work."

Gonzalez is still rehabbing his shoulder and strengthening it, he said, underscoring on more than one occasion that his return was out of his control.

The number he dons in 2024 is under his control, however, and he'll become the first Patriots player to wear No. 0 (he was No. 6 last season).

"Excited to wear that zero," he said. "It'll be real cool."

Despite the injury and his uncertain return, Gonzalez remains assured in his skills and ability in the league.

"Still, extremely confident in what I can do," he said.

What Gonzalez could do is match up with the opposition's No. 1 wide receiver, an opportunity he would relish.

"Obviously, I want that matchup," he said. "I think any corner wants that matchup."

From the outset in 2023, Gonzalez showed he's not just any corner. He was on a trajectory for a terrific rookie campaign before he was sidelined.

Though he's still dealing with the shoulder setback, he's ready to put it behind him and return to the phenomenal form glimpsed a year ago.

"That's in the past," Gonzalez said of the injury. "Ready for right now, and just happy to be back in the building, be around the guys and just have fun."

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