FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ top tight end has missed three games this season, has been limited in two others and could be in line to miss a fourth this weekend.
Luckily for the Patriots, that guy’s understudy has been, for the most part, rock solid.
While hamstring and chest injuries have sidelined Rob Gronkowski for spells, Martellus Bennett has been a workhorse for New England, appearing in all 10 games and playing 78.3 percent of offensive snaps, good for second among Patriots skill players behind wide receiver Julian Edelman (83.3 percent).
Bennett has done this while dealing with an injury of his own: a tweaked ankle in Week 5 that sidelined him for just a few plays but has limited him in practice ever since. He was one of three players to miss Thursday’s practice session, along with quarterback Tom Brady (knee) and special-teamer Matthew Slater (foot).
“He’s showed good toughness,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday of Bennett. “He’s been a very dependable player for us in terms of being out there all the way through the spring, (organized team activities), training camp, the regular season.
“It’s one of those positions — offensive line, tight end, linebacker, running back — those guys get hit a lot. They’re in on a lot of contact plays. Part of those positions — I mean, it’s true of all positions, too, I’m not trying to single them out — but there’s contact on pretty much every play for them. Part of those positions is durability.”
Had Bennett’s body not held up as well as it has, the Patriots would have been in deep trouble depth-wise. The decisions to part ways with AJ Derby and Clay Harbor earlier this season left New England with just three tight ends on its active roster: Gronkowski, Bennett and Matt Lengel, who made his NFL debut Sunday after spending his first season-and-a-half on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad.
Gronkowski and Bennett have been the league’s most productive tight end duo this season, teaming up to catch 64 passes for 1,058 yards and seven touchdowns.
ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported earlier this week that Gronkowski was not expected to play this Sunday against the New York Jets, but the four-time All-Pro practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, albeit in a limited capacity. Gronkowski did not practice at all last week and was inactive for Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers.
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