FOXBORO -- When the Patriots jettisoned undrafted free-agent tight ends Justin Jones and Asa Watson, they restocked with two more experienced players whose focus is more on the blocking aspect of the tight end position: Ben Hartsock and former tackle Steve Maneri. They also added undrafted rookie Terrence Miller who may provide more of a dual receiving and blocking threat.
Hartsock, who has built a 10-year career in the NFL as a 6-foot-4, 265-pound blocking tight end, feels he is in the perfect place. Not only have the Patriots shown a willingness to carry blocking tight ends in the past -- they used Matthew Mulligan throughout last season to help mix things up in the trenches -- but in general they have shown an affinity for players who can thrive in a grinding role.
"It’s exciting to be part of this team because this team is the quintessential role-player team," Hartsock said. "You find a spot on this team and you see that’s how you win championships."
After amassing 57 catches and five touchdowns in his four-year career at Ohio State, Hartsock has embraced his decade-long role as a pile-mover in the NFL. He has just 31 catches and one touchdown as a pro.
"I’ve carved out a career by doing something no one else wants to do," he said. "There aren't many high school kids coming out and graduating high school looking to be a backup, blocking tight end. For that reason, I’ve carved out a decade of that. It’s a role that I relish, really.
“In college, I had a little more opportunity to catch the football and be a little but more of the focal point of the offense. But as soon as I came into the league, it became very clear that I didn’t really have the skill set that the Dallas Clarks and the Tony Gonzalezes had. I wanted to stick around. I was always a solid blocker, but it’s something I’ve continued to craft, and it’s something that’s blessed me over the years.”
Needless to say, Hartsock's addition shouldn't at all cause Rob Gronkowski to feel threatened for his job. ("Gronkowski, I think the legend precedes himself, and so far, he’s lived up to that," Hartsock said.) But Hartsock could provide the Patriots some value since they've become so thin at the tight end spot.
While Gronkowski appears to be making progress and appeared in 7-on-7 work for the first time this summer on Monday, both Michael Hoomanawanui and DJ Williams have missed practices recently due to injury.
The window for Hartsock -- as well as Maneri and Miller -- to make an impression is open.