Young tight ends finding their way


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I’m sure plenty of you have read the practice reports over the last week or so, and might be a little worried over the status of rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez — who flashed his considerable athleticism in Atlanta — and his recent absences.

I wouldn’t be too concerned. At the tail end of today’s practice, with just about no one left on the field, Hernandez stayed with quarterback Tom Brady to get extra work in. He ran routes. He went up high for a couple balls. He looked like his smooth and fluid self.

And therein, lies another reason to be excited about the young tight ends here. Minutes earlier, Gronkowski was also out there working with Brady, one of the few left on the practice field. It’s something that Alge Crumpler, the elder statesman of the group and a mentor to both Hernandez and Gronkowski, has taken note of.

“We talk about wanting to be a really good core group for this team and, being new guys, there’s a lot that we have to do to get to that point,” Crumpler said after today’s work. “I would hope that our team is gonna be reliant on any of us in any different capacity – This year. This isn’t a developmental league. I think what we’re trying to do is get it down now, so we can be ready come Cincinnati.”

I asked for a brief scouting report on the two, and what sticks out about each guy Crumpler said … On Gronkowski: “Size, great size, great speed, a well-rounded football player” … and on Hernandez: “Elusive. Great route-runner. Tough. Can’t really label him. People outside may have a label for him, but he’s just a tough football player.


The adjective Crumpler would really like to use, though, is “ready”.

Both players have flashed big-time ability in the preseason. But Crumpler has told them the regular season is a different ballgame. And so the group moves on to the next step.

“Game’s a little bit faster, and you get more time to prepare for your opponent,” said Crumpler. “I think my focus in camp has been just to compete. Whatever the defense shows us, we just go out there and compete and go at it, and try to make the whole attitude of our team a competitive one. Then we can start focusing on teams we’re gonna be playing in the regular season, study them, break them down a little bit more.

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“More the mental things that come with being a pro come into effect as we get closer to the regular season. But I think the foundation that we’re building, that we’ve set down, in terms of our (tight ends) room, it’s getting there, so the things you see now are the things you’re gonna see in the regular season. That’s important.

“Preseason matters, in terms of getting ready, but everybody forgets about it as we get into the regular season. I want to make sure the strides we’re making now carry well into the regular season and possibly postseason.”

And there, folks, is a big reason Crumpler is here. He’s worried about the tight ends as a group, not just himself, and that mindset is quite an example for a young player.

Even the kind that might have you staying after practice to get that little extra bit of work in.