Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez Show Immediate Progression in Second Season

Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez Show Immediate Progression in Second Season MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Second-year tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have already made a noticeable jump in the Patriots' offense.

As a result, it's become evident that quarterback Tom Brady has been more willing to rely on them as safety blankets. Gronkowski (six catches, 86 yards, one touchdown) and Hernandez (seven catches, 103 yards, one touchdown) combined for 13 receptions, 189 yards and two scores.

Hernandez has become a real asset in the slot, which has taken some heat off Wes Welker, and Brady has shown that he likes to use Hernandez when he gets in trouble in the pocket. That's significant because Brady was reluctant to target the two tight ends during pressure situations in 2010, most notably in the playoff loss to the Jets. When the pass rush got to Brady on Monday, he often looked to Hernandez or Gronkowski.

"Coming in last year, we were just rookies, didn't really know how it worked out and everything," Gronkowski said. "Coming into this year, the second year, [we] have more confidence. It's great to be out there knowing the plays a lot better, but we've got to keep studying, got to keep going so we don't miss a beat."

The duo obviously had an impressive rookie campaign, combining for 87 receptions, 1,009 yards and 16 touchdowns. A lot of that was due to sheer athleticism, as they weren't completely fluid with reading defenses and getting where Brady needed them as a reaction to the coverages.

That's a much different case already this season, and they're going to make life difficult for opposing defenses.

"I guess that's why they drafted us," Hernandez said. "Rob takes a lot off me, too, because he's so dynamic. A lot of people have to worry about him, and they forget about me. Sometimes they worry about me and forget about him. That's why it's a great combination."

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