FOXBOROUGH — A host of new tight ends are getting extended work in Foxborough thanks to Rob Gronkowski, who has yet to fully partake in the team's offseason practices.
That's also left an opening for Michael Hoomanawanui, the Patriots' other most experienced member of the group, to shoulder the lead. With younger players on the roster, like rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson, the entire group can change in the 2014 season, with can potentially make the roster and an impact on this team. (Fellow tight end D.J. Williams has been with Gronkowski and the rehab group for an undisclosed injury.)
Hoomanwanui was asked to assess himself and the group.
"Overall I would say good," he said. "I can only speak for myself and what I try to get better at each and every day. I think I have both aspects of the position. But you know, there’s no pads out here right now so it’s hard to tell for myself and for everyone. How everyone’s going to be with the pads on, we’ll see that in about a month."
Expectations for the rookies are especially tough right now, when so little of what they do can be judged against the actual, physical nature of the game. So Hoomanawanui keeps it simple for them.
"Come to work, be on time, do your job, whatever that is," he said. "I’m by no means a coach, so I don't know what their role is going to be in the offense or what we need to see from them right now. Just from the outside looking in, and obviously being on the inside, obviously being a tight end you have to be able to block and be able to run and catch the ball. I think they’ve done a good job so far. But like I said, nobody’s got pads on right now so that’ll be a big determining factor as well."
Since the departure of Aaron Hernandez, as well as Gronkowski's numerous injuries, the whole dynamic of the Patriots' tight end position has been altered. The tight ends group is not nearly as dangerous with Gronkowski out of the lineup, changing almost instantaneously from a receiving threat to a forgotten target.
"You could say it’s changed, I guess, just based on personnel," Hoomanawanui said. "But we still have to fill that role somehow. Whether it’s one person doing it, two people, or three people. For this offense, it’s gotta be done, somehow, some way. Like I said, if that means one person doing it, or two or three, or by committee with four, it’s just gotta be done. That’s how we’re gonna win."
As with all things tight ends related on the Patriots, a lot of the roster decisions will be determined by Gronkowski's health, the Patriots wariness of his injuries, and the development of the offense going forward. Will the Patriots continue to have a two tight end set, much like the thunder and lightning combo of Gronkowski and Hernandez that was so successful? After a 2013 season in which they adapted successfully without either impact player, they may never go back in that direction. So whether the Patriots need two or three tight ends — or even four — to start the 2014 season will be based upon the their assessment of the offense as much as Gronkowski, whom Belichick said Tuesday was day-to-day.