As a die-hard New England Patriots fan, I have two main concerns this season, and they may very well be connected: first being the struggling offensive line, and the second being the insane amount of tight ends on the roster.
It’s no big secret that the O-line is the cause of major distress for the Patriots. It’s going to take Nate Solder some time to fit into the role of left tackle, just like it took Matt Light some time to fit into the role after Patriot Hall of Famer Bruce Armstrong retired.
Veteran Patriot linebacker and current ESPN analyst, Tedy Bruschi voiced his concern on his weekly podcast for ESPN Boston last week when discussing the Patriots’ upcoming game against Tennessee, “Breaking in a new left tackle can be a problem. It’s possible (Tennessee’s) Wimbley breaks free, or someone later in the season, and there may be that moment where all Patriots fans are watching and jaws are open as they’re saying, ‘Get up Tom, Please get up.’” This cringe-worthy statement is any New England fan’s worst nightmare.
It’s become an ongoing joke throughout the league that when a tight end becomes available, the Patriots will grab him.
When your team already has two of the NFL’s best tight ends signing long-term contracts (Gronkowski and Hernandez), people will get curious when you continue to sign tight end (Ballard) after tight end (Fells) after tight end (Shiancoe) after tight end (Hoomanawanui). So the question on everyone’s mind is “Why?” Why draft so many tight ends? Is Josh McDaniels’ genius mind at it again?
Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard writes about the 2010 draft, “The Patriots have always had two classes of tight ends. There is the traditional “Y,” whose job requirements read: 6 feet 5 inches or taller, at least 255 pounds, can run but absolutely must be a standout blocker. He has to be a viable receiver, but not a great one. The “F” or flex tight end is 6-3 or taller, around 235 pounds, must be able to run and be an excellent pass receiver. Does not need to be a good blocker.”
Bedard goes on to explain that Hernandez was the “prototype F” and that Belichick believed Rob Gronkowski was the “No. 1 Y”.
This got me thinking: Where do the other tight ends fall? And is there some method behind this tight end madness?
At 6-6 and 275, Jake Ballard is a Y. At 6-4 and 252, Daniel Fells is listed as a Y. At 6-4 and 265, Michael Hoomanawanui is a Y. The Pats also have rookie TE Brad Herman on IR. Herman is, you guessed it, a Y at 6’5 and 255. All Y’s. All blocking tight ends.
The recently signed Hoomanawanui, who, like Fells, previously worked with Josh McDaniels in St. Louis, is a good receiver (20 catches for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2 seasons with the Rams), but he is a tremendous blocker. Pro Football Focus rated Hoomanawanui as a 2.7 pass blocker (ninth-best among all tight ends last season) and a 2.2 run blocker in 2011. Interesting.
So, the Patriots O-Line lacks depth at tackle. They need additional help on the line to block and protect Tom Brady. And they currently have five (most of them experienced) blocking tight ends on their roster.
In their first game against the Titans, all three touchdowns were scored when the Patriots ran a 3 TE package with one TE solely blocking.
But, probably not. Not if you know the Patriots.