TIGHT ENDS: From feast to famine in one year

TIGHT ENDS: From feast to famine in one year
July 11, 2013, 10:30 am
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Mary Paoletti will be previewing each Patriots position up until the start of camp in her daily "Roster Reset." Yesterday, she previewed the receivers. Today, she takes a look at the tight ends.

Returning: 
Rob Gronkowski - 4th season - Currently on PUP (back, forearm) 
Michael Hoomanawanui - 4th season
Daniel Fells - 7th season
Jake Ballard - 3rd season
 
Incoming: 
Zach Sudfield - Rookie
Brandon Ford - Rookie
 
News of note: At this time last year, New England's dynamic tight end tandem of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were poised for another dominant season. The pair was credited, not just with creating a brand new iteration of unstoppable Patriots offense, but with revolutionizing the way the league approached the position. 
 
Much has changed. 
 
Hernandez was booted off the team after being arrested on murder charges. As the Patriots are a business that must continue to operate at max efficiency, the situation will be simplified as the loss of a valuable employee. Hernandez caught 175 passes for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns in his three seasons with New England. 
 
Rob Gronkowski was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list July 22. He will continue to rehab from back and forearm surgeries while his teammates go through the training camp paces. If he's still on the list after August 31, Gronkowski will have to sit for a minimum of six games. 
 
New England will have to make over its offense once again. 
 
Injuries limited Hernandez and Gronkowski to sharing the field for only four of 16 regular-season games last season. But though the Patriots won 12 games and made it to the AFC Championship, they can't be thrilled about how the tight end position went from feast to famine in one year.   
 
Veteran Jake Ballard spent all of 2012 recovering from an ACL injury. Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld may be the only guy in New England who can find a silver lining in all of this. The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder has benefited from Gronkowski and Ballard's limitations by getting more reps during offseason workouts so he should get a glut during training camp. 
 
A lack of bodies doesn't guarantee all of them safe passage onto the 53-man roster, however. Returning tight ends Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui got a similar number of snaps -- 293 for the former and 283 for the latter -- last season, and will have to duke it out over the coming weeks. Who has the edge? Hoomanawanui, most likely. The 25-year old really stepped up after Gronkowski was sidelined by injury, earning more than 60 percent of his total snaps over the last four weeks of the season.