Will Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski be enough at tight end?
|09.05.11 at 6:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski provided arguably the best 1-2 rookie tandem in New England since the “Gold Dust Twins” Fred Lynn and Jim Rice burst onto the scene with the Red Sox in 1975.
Their collective season in 2010 was so good that apparently Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are convinced that they can begin the season with them as their only tight end options on the team. Gronkowski played in all 16 games, with 42 catches, 546 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hernandez was even better before a hip injury limited him in the last month of the season. In his first season, Hernandez caught 45 balls for 563 yards and six touchdowns.
But whereas the Patriots had a wealth of tight end options on the roster in 2010 and even earlier in camp this summer, the depth is suddenly depleted.
The Patriots waived two tight ends during the final roster cuts over the weekend, letting go of 6-foot-6 Lee Smith, who was picked up by Bills, and Will Yeatman, another big, tall tight end who was scooped up by the Dolphins. Alge Crumpler is at home, still rehabbing after having surgery on both shoulders in the off-season.
So, while Hernandez and Gronkowski figure to be right at the top of the Brady target list every game, this is a different mix of receivers. The Patriots have brought in Chad Ochocinco, who is still adjusting. They still have Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman and Taylor Price.
But this year, it’s just Gronk and Hernandez at tight end, a role and responsibility both second-year players are embracing.
“Yes, definitely taking on a bigger role like that, having them rely on us like that,” Gronkowski said. “Definitely Crump helped out a lot last year, too. But I feel like having a year under our belt, we can handle this situation. Also, we have to rely on the coaches, too, telling us what to do, listening to the coaches, the quarterbacks and other players so we can go out there and do what we have to do.”
“I feel more comfortable every day because we obviously have great receivers like Deion, Ocho and Wes,” said Hernandez. “They are always correcting us, teaching how to attack people, and stuff like that.”
Asked if rookie tackle Nate Solder might be able to help, Hernandez dropped this little nugget about what the Patriots might do if they need an extra blocker on the edge in run-blocking situations.
“I’m sure he can, probably other people can as well,” said Hernandez. “We’ll just take it day by day and the coaches will make that decision.”
Solder began his career at Colorado as a tight end before moving over to the left tackle spot.
For now, however, tight ends coach Brian Ferentz only has two pupils in his meetings.
“It’s a little quiet right now with just me and Gronk in there,” Hernandez said. “I’m sure someone else will come in. I don’t mind it, though. Gronk is a great tight end. I don’t mind it being us.”
“He’s the loud one,” Gronkowski added. “That means basically the same thing as always, if we have two or five. I just have to do what I do and do what the coaches ask me to do, just go out there and perform how I can perform. I just have to go out there and do the job they tell me to do. I feel like it’s not going to change at all, if we have eight tight ends in there or two. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the coaches ask, just have to go out there.”