Saturday, May 18, 2013

Patriots' reserve TEs poised for meaningful snaps


New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's offseason has gone from bad to worse.

Not long after learning he would need a fourth surgical procedure on his left forearm, Gronkowski found out he would "probably" need surgery on an injured disc in his back, according to a report by (photo: Jack Newton, Flickr)

The All-Pro tight end is seeking a second opinion from spine specialist Robert Watkins.

If surgery is required, it would take place three to four weeks after his latest arm operation, which is scheduled for Monday. Barring any complications, the timetable for recovery for both injuries is expected to have him ready for training camp.

Gronkowski's absence, as well the implications of his obvious proneness to injury, will compel the other, lower profile New England tight ends to establish themselves as capable replacements during summer mini-camps and OTAs. Aaron Hernandez, the other half of the Patriots' lethal tight end duo, is recovering from a shoulder surgery himself and is unlikely to be ready for training camp.

As the injuries pile up for the two centerpieces of the New England passing attack, it puts pressure on the team to find players that can step up in the event that either misses time during the season.

Among the current remaining options are Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells, who were sparingly used in the passing game a year ago. Though valuable to the team as blockers, neither showcased much competence as receivers when given the opportunity.

Also among the reserve tight ends is Jake Ballard, who was claimed by New England last season despite being ruled out for the year due to injury. Ballard sustained an ACL tear during the Patriots last Super Bowl appearance in 2011, while playing for the opposing New York Giants.

The fourth-year veteran showed promise that season, recording 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns. If New England's unlucky string of tight end health issues extends into the season, Ballard may need to be ready to serve in a prominent role in the offense.

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