Aaron HernandezRob Gronkowski isn’t walking through that door, and he won’t be for some time.

Tom Brady‘s top receiving target is slated to have back surgery in the next week or so, and he could be out into the start of the regular season. The absence has left a gaping hole in the Patriots’ offense, but it’s also allowed for some other guys to get some much-needed reps with Brady and the first team.

Jake Ballard is the first name to surface, as his size and skill set best resemble Gronk’s, but an ankle injury during Tuesday’s OTA session could limit his participation going forward.

The other likely option, at least in OTAs, seemed to be undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld. He stole the show during Tuesday’s practice, connecting with Brady on multiple occasions and appearing to have a strong grasp on the offense already. But, while the rookie saw some added reps, the surprise return of Aaron Hernandez, who ran routes and even spent some one-on-one time with Brady, should also raise spirits around New England.

NESN.com NFL writers Luke Hughes and Doug Kyed delved deep into the tight end position during this week’s podcast, discussing Hernandez’s triumphant, but unexpected, return to the field, as well as Sudfeld’s emergence and chances to make the team. The duo also gave updates on injuries to Ballard and running back Stevan Ridley, considered the potential impact of Alfonzo Dennard‘s shoulder injury and tossed in plenty of nuggets from OTA observations.

So, kick back and let the Gunslingers hit you with more Patriots knowledge than you can handle. Oh, and a Mighty Ducks — the movie — debate, too.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.