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NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
The New England Patriots head into voluntary offseason workouts with a roster of 64 names.
Three of whom are listed as tight ends.
The select group is indeed headlined by two-time All-Pro Rob Gronkowski, who is on the road to recovery from ACL and MCL tears suffered in December. Second in command is 25-year-old utility man Michael Hoomanawanui, who’s back with the team on a two-year deal after making 10 starts in 2013. And rounding out the list is 6’2”, 245-pound flex target D.J. Williams, who was signed, cut and re-signed to play two Patriots games last season.
It’s a group that carries a bit of everything – a prolific seam-stretching “Y”, a versatile blocker-slash-special-teamer, and an “F” receiver on his third team in two seasons. It’s also a group surrounded by question marks, given Gronkowski’s prognosis and fact that his understudies have combined for 46 receptions in 78 regular-season games.
But it is a group head coach Bill Belichick and Co. stuck with through the height of free agency, even after veteran Owen Daniels visited, even after 2013 No. 3 option Matthew Mulligan departed for the Chicago Bears.
As the 2014 NFL draft draws near, however, the group should soon look different. New England has been widely forecasted to bolster the tight end position. And for what it’s worth, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, Colorado State’s Crockett Gillmore, Fresno State’s Marcel Jensen, California’s Richard Rodgers and Virginia Tech’s D.J. Coles have all had their names linked.
Yet while all signs point towards the Patriots adding a fourth, a fifth or even a sixth name to the tight end depth chart this May, there’s an outside possibility that an in-house name could also join them.
Second-year wide receiver Mark Harrison.
It was an idea that seemed to gain steam late last season, long after the Rutgers product went undrafted when he fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, long after he failed his physical with the Chicago Bears, and long after he was placed on the non-football injury list by the Patriots.
And when ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss revealed that at least one other NFL team viewed Harrison as more of a “Move” tight end than a receiver during the pre-draft process, it seemed all the more conceivable.