FOXBORO, Mass. — Michael Hoomanawanui isn’t content to be the guy who Tom Brady targets when no one decides to cover him.
Hoomanawanui is doing everything he can to increase his role in the Patriots’ passing offense next season after signing a two-year, $2.4 million contract. Hoomanawanui played in 13 games last season, starting 10, but he caught just 12 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels described Hoomanawanui’s role in the passing game best in January, when the team was preparing to face the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
“They also do some different things in the passing game where, if people don’t cover them, we’ve thrown them the ball plenty this year,” McDaniels said about Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan, who signed with the Chicago Bears this offseason.
Starter Rob Gronkowski is a constant injury risk, and the Patriots don’t have another dependable pass catcher on the roster, so the time is now for Hoomanawanui to step into that role.
“Who doesn’t want to be that guy?” Hoomanawanui said Thursday at Gillette Stadium. “I spent a lot of time this offseason looking at, quote-unquote, the best tight ends in the league. Hopefully I can learn from that — myself and all the other guys, something I can put in that toolbox. I realize my role in the passing game hasn’t been what Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski has done, but it’s definitely something I’m working on.”
Hoomanawanui’s most productive season came in 2010 — the only year he didn’t play under McDaniels — when he had 13 receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns for the St. Louis Rams. Since then, Hoomanawanui has been content to be the versatile guy.
“The old adage is ‘the more you can do,’ ” Hoomanawanui said about what has helped him stick in McDaniels’ offense, from 2011 with the Rams to the last two years with the Patriots. “Whether it’s on special teams or obviously on offense. I move around, play inline, off the line, move around to the H-back, fullback role. I think that’s definitely helped.”
Hoomanawanui is happy with his hands in the passing game, and he proved last season when he made an impressive one-handed touchdown grab against the Miami Dolphins, but catching isn’t the only facet that goes into being a great receiver.
“There’s a million things that go into it — running routes the right way, reading defenses, getting open at the top of routes, there’s so many things,” Hoomanawanui said. “I take something each day and put it in that toolbox.”
Hoomanawanui also is learning from a new tight ends coach this season. Brian Daboll, who ran offenses in Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City, is taking over for George Godsey, who left to coach the Houston Texans’ quarterbacks.
“He’s done a great job, a little different style than I’m used to, but very energetic, very in your face, going to get the best out of you,” Hoomanawanui said about Daboll.
Unless the Patriots sign a veteran like Dustin Keller to back up Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui likely will be forced into a big role for the second consecutive year, and with that should come more opportunities to fill out the stat sheet.