FOXBORO – The Patriots are already churning bodies at tight end.
On Sunday, undrafted free agents Justin Jones and Asa Watson were waived and they brought aboard a pair of veterans – Ben Hartsock and Steve Maneri along young Terrence Miller.
The Patriots are wafer thin at the spot having lost D.J. Williams to a leg injury last week in Richmond and practicing without Michael Hoomanawanui since an injury early in camp. Rob Gronkowski, of course, is coming back from an ACL and the team is managing him in his continued convalescence.
It was apparent before camp began that tight end was a trouble spot in terms of depth and the Patriots are feeling the crunch. Jones, the 6-8 kid from East Carolina, was certainly worth the flyer the Patriots took on him, but he was just too slow off the line and in reactions. Watson did little to stand out.
Even if the team was especially high on either Jones or Watson, the need to get something more than an apprentice at the position is important because tight end is such a pivotal spot in the Patriots offense.
Hartsock, a third-round pick in 2004, has the most notable resume. The 34-year-old’s been with the Colts, Titans, Falcons, Jets and Panthers. But he’s not a pass-catching threat – 7 catches since 2008.
Maneri, a 6-6, 270-pounder who has toggled between tackle and tight end since coming into the league. He was a tackle in his first go-round as a Patriots scrub back in 2010. A well-regarded blocker, the Buccaneers released him in May. Maneri worked out last week with the Seahawks. He has six receptions in 21 games.
Miller was an undrafted free agent that signed with the Jets in the spring. He’s a smaller H-back type who had 467 yards receiving for the Wildcats in 2013, his fifth year at Arizona.
One of my post-draft critiques of the Patriots was their failure to use their second-round pick on C.J. Fiedorowicz, a massive tight end from Iowa who can block and catch.
The Patriots went instead with Jimmy Garoppolo at the 62nd pick and Fiedorowicz went 65th to Houston.
My criticism had nothing to do with the players, everything to do with the depth chart at their respective positions. The Patriots needed tight end depth more than quarterback depth. Now, maybe that’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish insistence by me. Tight end was – and now is – the more immediate need. But if Tom Brady gets hurt, having a capable backup is a helluva lot more important than being deep at tight end.
Still, the Patriots have known that tight end was a place that needed attention. In the offseason, they worked out Owen Daniels, Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley. Keller and Finley are still unsigned.
I don’t think Hartsock, Maneri or Miller will put the team’s mind entirely at ease either. This could be an ongoing – and slow-going – process.