FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez puts in work. Whether he's in Tom Brady's side pocket, or running extra routes against the defense after practice, Hernandez has earned what he has gotten through four games of his rookie season.
The shifty Florida product leads the Patriots with 240 receiving yards, and he is second on the team with 18 catches. Hernandez has quickly morphed into one of Brady's favorite targets, and the offense has experienced success when Brady has looked toward Hernandez.
Hernandez, who won't turn 21 until Nov. 6, has transitioned to the NFL a little more quickly than most might have expected.
"You have so much time," Hernandez said. "You have rookie camp, mini-camp, training camp, all these camps. If you don’t know the plays yet, then there’s something wrong. Obviously, there’s some plays we put in week by week that we have to pick up on, but you have so many people like Brady, [who is] going to be on you in the huddle if you are unsure, so there’s really nothing to worry about."
Hernandez compared his relationship with Brady to the one he had at Florida with former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, although Hernandez said he has matured a lot more in the last few years, and that has sped along the growing process.
"With Tebow, it took a little longer because I was really young, really immature going into Florida, so I didn’t pick up everything as quick as I do now," Hernandez said. "So when I finally developed into a good player, then Tebow and me started getting my connection, and he started trusting me and that’s how things came along. And then when Tom started trusting me, that’s when we started getting our connection, and he started talking to me and working with me."
Hernandez's success can also be greatly attributed to his athletic ability. He plays more like a wide receiver, and the Patriots use him as such. He is faster and certainly quicker than most linebackers, and he is bigger than opposing safeties. When the Patriots get him in the right matchup, Hernandez has been able to really thrive.
That’s actually how Hernandez first realized his potential as a tight end. He was a running back in middle school but transitioned to wide receiver in high school — a move the coaches told him was necessary if he wanted to play on the varsity team as a freshman. As a sophomore, Hernandez wanted to go back to running back, but the coaching staff had different ideas, instead moving him to tight end because of his elite athleticism.
It worked immediately on the high school fields in Connecticut, and then again in the SEC, and that recipe is still holding true in the NFL. So far, it's been all about a strong dedication to make the right adjustments for Hernandez, and he's realized that will help the game come to him.
"It worked out for the best, I guess," Hernandez said of his switch to tight end. "I liked it because they put slower people on me, linebackers that couldn’t move as much. It made me happier because it made it easier for me. But it didn’t matter, anyways, I just loved running routes and catching the ball."