FOXBORO, Mass. — For the New England Patriots, it’s always next man up, not next man in.
So, with Rob Gronkowski’s season likely over after back surgery to fix a herniated disc, players already on the Patriots’ roster must step up in an attempt to replace him. That’s partially because it’s early December, and the best available free agents are veteran tight ends Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham and Andrew Quarless.
“He’s a tough player,” quarterback Tom Brady said Friday. “There are no guys like Rob just on the street. It’s hard to sub one guy for one guy but other guys will just have to play. When he comes out of the lineup, someone else has to step in and fill that spot. It may not be a tight end spot, maybe another receiver, another running back, could be tight end.
“You’ve just got to be determined on what the play is. We still have to go out and execute the plays well. There’s 70 of them in the game, and you have to execute all 70 as well as you possibly can. The better players you have, the more consistent players you have, the more you can do that on a consistent basis. There’s going to be a lot of guys trying to do that.”
Martellus Bennett must take on more snaps and responsibility in one-tight-end sets, and fullback James Develin and tight end Matt Lengel will have to emerge as blockers. The Patriots likely will use more three-wide receiver and two-running back alignments, so Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis and James White also will see more targets.
“It doesn’t stop for anybody,” Brady said. “The games keep being played and they keep going. I’ve learned that lesson a few times in my career. When you’re out there, you’ve got to appreciate it. When you’re not, you do everything you can to get back. For the guys who have the opportunity to go out there and play this week and are fortunate to play the game, you do it with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm because you don’t know what next week is going to bring. We’ve got to go out there and play a great game. It’s a good time of year to start playing our best football.”
The Patriots have lost Gronkowski plenty of times during the tight end’s seven-year career, but they’ve never had a dual-threat tight end like Bennett to replace him. Patriots fans didn’t get to see a full utilization of the team’s two-tight end offense, but at least they have a tight end who can fill many, but not all, of the roles Gronkowski plays on a football field.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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