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Sources: Aaron Hernandez out two to four weeks … and what it means going forward

09.20.11 at 6:51 pm ET
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League sources now indicate that the Patriots will lose tight end Aaron Hernandez for two to four weeks because of a left knee injury he suffered in Sunday’€™s win over the Chargers. (The news that Hernandez would miss time was first reported by Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.)

Hernandez, who is third on the team with 14 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns on two games, has combined with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to form a dynamic portion of the New England passing game. If he’€™s unable to go over the next two weeks, that will rob the Patriots of perhaps their most versatile offensive option — while the Florida product is listed as a tight end, he really plays more like a wide receiver, often lined up on the outside and using his speed to create advantageous matchups for New England.

At the same time, it will provide opportunities in the passing game for some pass catchers who might have struggled over the first two weeks of the season.

‘€œWe have a lot of different skill players in our offense,’€ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked if they have anyone who can replicate Hernandez’€™s versatile role in the offense. ‘€œWe have a lot of different formations and things. As you’€™ve seen, we use multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, so whatever we have to do, we’€™ll use some combination of those.’€

‘€œWe have a lot different guys that play,’€ said Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien. ‘€œWe’€™re in the process of game-planning right now. We’€™re going to head out to practice (Wednesday) and we’€™re going to start putting that first and second half game plan in and go from there.’€

The Patriots could do one of two things: First, an increase role in the passing game could be in the cards for one or both of the Gronkowski brothers, the two healthy tight ends on the roster. Two, other pass catchers could see more chances as a result. That includes wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who was targeted five times over the first two games (the lowest total of targets among the starting pass catchers).

The newcomer, who caught a pair of passes in Sunday’€™s win over San Diego, is part of a rapidly improving group of wide receivers, according to O’€™Brien.

‘€œI think that whole position is moving forward,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œEach guy — Chad, Deion [Branch], Wes [Welker] — especially those three guys that have played the most for us, those guys really improved from the Miami game to the San Diego game. I think they are doing little things better.

‘€œWe’€™re a game plan offense, and depending on how teams are playing us, those are the personnel groups we go with and each and every week will be different. That’€™s kind of what’€™s always made us tick around here. As long as we can keep people off-balance, that’€™s part of what we try to do, use different personnel groups. Some game, one guy might play more than another guy. Those guys understand that. That’€™s why they’€™re here and they buy into that role. So I think all those guys are getting better.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Chad Ochocinco
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