Zach Sudfeld Shines at Patriots OTAs After Jake Ballard Tweaks Ankle in Rob Gronkowski’s Absence

Zach SudfeldFOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots were quickly running out of tight ends on Tuesday during the last OTA session of the season open to the media.

Zach Sudfeld benefited from the lack of players at the position, receiving an increased amount of reps in Rob Gronkowski‘s absence. Jake Ballard was working next to the Nevada rookie tight end before the veteran tweaked an ankle and watched the rest of practice from the sidelines. After Ballard’s injury, Aaron Hernandez came over to catch some passes from Brady with Sudfeld.

Sudfeld stayed over with the quarterbacks while the rest of the team ran special teams drills, working with wide receiver Michael Jenkins. Sudfeld is a 6-foot-7, 253-pound undrafted free agent. He ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash at Nevada’s pro day with a 7.08-second 3-cone drill and 4.41-second short shuttle time.

He made some nice catches alone with Brady and in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. With Gronkowski’s health in question, Hernandez recovering from a shoulder injury and Ballard coming off an ACL tear that kept him out in 2012, Sudfeld could find a spot on this team, especially if Gronkowski starts the season on the PUP list. He’ll be competing with Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and Brandon Ford.

Rookie Jamie Collins was getting plenty of opportunities on defense, especially in what looked to be a version of the nickel package. Collins showed nice athleticism and flexibility on the field. The Patriots lacked a specialized coverage linebacker last season and we could see Collins serve in that role this year.

Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Brandon Bolden, Nick McDonald and Brandon Spikes were absent from practice. Ballard, Stevan Ridley and Alfonzo Dennard all got nicked up throughout the session. This particular practice was especially heavy on special teams. We saw Danny Amendola in on punt coverage.

Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Josh Boyce, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Mark Harrison, Nate Ebner and Hernandez were all limited. Boyce, Harrison, Vollmer and Connolly all spent time on the bike on the sidelines.

One thing that’s been tough to miss in all three sessions is just how massive Adrian Wilson is. He’s 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and he looks like a linebacker out on the field. The Patriots didn’t have a physical presence in the secondary like him last season and that should put some fear into the hearts of wide receivers coming over the middle. He’s been spending time with Steve Gregory at safety while McCourty is recovering from a shoulder injury.

The Patriots’ defensive backs continue to look strong. Ras-I Dowling continued making plays and Gregory wound up with an interception off a deflection.

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