Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hernandez on Gronk-less Pats: Keep train moving


The New England Patriots have without a doubt the best tight end tandem in the NFL -- when healthy.

With Rob Gronkowski nearing half a dozen surgeries in almost as many months, his counterpart in Aaron Hernandez will shoulder (no pun intended, though he is nursing a shoulder) all of the No. 1 duties through summer camp. (photo: Beth Hart, Flickr)

That could very well spill over into the beginning of the regular season, as Gronkowski isn't expected to be 100 percent by Week 1.

“It definitely would be a big change because he’s a huge part of our offense, but everyone would have to step up and keep the train moving," Hernandez said on SiriusXM NFL Radio Sunday, via ESPN Boston.

The well-timed return of former New York Giants tight end Jake Ballard, who New England signed last year, will help ease the pain, though it will take a joint effort from all the reserves at the position.

Rob Gronkowski's production, which includes 41 touchdowns and 162 first downs in 47 games, is impossible to match. However, the Patriots have had some experience in taking the field without him. He missed five regular season games last year due to forearm injuries and was a no-go throughout the playoffs.

And in 2011, after his record-setting two-year introduction to the league, Gronkowski injured his ankle in the AFC Championship game and didn't practice in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, where he played on the injury but clearly wasn't full-go.

Hernandez, who also has his share of injury issues and was drafted in Gronk's class, has hauled in 20 touchdowns and 123 first downs in 44 games.

Follow Nick @NickStDenis
Follow AFC East Daily @AFCEastDaily