Chances are that when the 2013 NFL season kicks off, the New England Patriots won’t have their two starting tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, each for his own reason, which might make it a very tough year for Tom Brady and the attempt to win another Super Bowl.
It’s not enough that Brady lost Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos, while Brandon Lloyd, who might not be too loved but had a pretty good season with the Pats in 2012, was released as well. The Patriots lost or will be without their top 5 reception leaders from last season, representing 356 of the team’s 401 receptions last season.
This doesn’t mean Bill Belichick is going to give up on his two-tight end sets. It doesn’t mean that Patriots won’t be using Danny Amendola as a Wes Welker type slot receiver, hopefully becoming an efficient replacement with the same amount of receptions and yards.
But the tight end situation is worrying, especially if Hernandez is in much trouble as it seems like at the moment. If he’ll be arrested for obstruction of justice, we might not see him play at all next season, while Gronkowski should be back for week 2 or 3, but his form and shape will be questionable.
So where does that leave the Patriots when it comes to their tight ends? There’s Daniel Fells, who started in four games last season, catching 4 passes for 85 yards, but was hardly used during the season, targeted a total of 10 times. There’s Michael Hoomanawanui, who is somewhat of an H-Back in his description, starting in six games and catching 5 passes last season, and there’s Jake Ballard, with a bit more experience (13 starts with the Giants in 2011), but he didn’t play a single game in 2012 for the Pats.
This might mean we’ll see more running plays, and tight ends on the field for blocking, nothing more, giving Stevan Ridley (290 carries, 1263 yards) more touches than ever before. Or it’ll be the emergence of Shane Vereen into more than just a rare night or two of being used as a wide receiver, Belichick hoping to make the most of a very confusing situation, which will be another test for Brady to show he can do it without big names to throw to.