With a mountain of legal problems swirling around Aaron Hernandez and the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski's playing status due to nagging injuries, the New England Patriots find themselves at a crossroads at the tight end position heading into the 2013 season.
|Photo by: David Butler|
Needless to say, it's a safe assumption that Hernandez will miss some games this season, either by suspension or a prison sentence.
New England's other big-play tight end, Rob Gronkowski, underwent back surgery last week, and is expected to be on the shelf for three months. There is a chance that the former Arizona Wildcat will be on the physically unable to perform list throughout training camp. If that's the case, he will have to be added to the active roster before the start of the regular season, or be forced to miss the first six weeks of the 2013 campaign.
If Gronk suffers any kind of setback, it could mean losing him for a significant portion of the year.
Collectively, the dynamic duo hauled in 106 receptions for 1,273 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. Hernandez pulled down 51 catches for 483 yards and 5 scores, while Gronkowski tallied 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 TDs. These numbers become more impressive when you take into consideration the fact that the pair missed a combined 11 games due to injury, with Hernandez missing 6 and Gronk missing 5.
At any rate, the loss of these two former Pro Bowlers for any significant amount of time will be a huge blow for the Patriots to endure in the upcoming season. A blow that could potentially be magnified even more with wide receiver Wes Welker no longer in the mix.
New England currently has five other tight ends on the roster; Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford. Ballard missed all of 2012 with an injury, and Hoomanawanui and Fells had all of 9 catches combined. Sudfeld and Ford are both rookies this season, and will look to hone their skills throughout training camp.
Uncertainty is the word that best describes the tight end position for the Patriots. Their two stars are likely to miss time early on, and there's a strong possibility that the pair may never take the field together again. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the rest of the team adjust to account for the loss.
But if history has taught us anything, we can expect guys to step up and play well in the absence of Hernandez and Gronkowski. That's the 'Patriot Way.'