It’s Aug. 23, the New England Patriots’ season starts in 16 days, and no one knows for sure who’s replacing Rob Gronkowski as the team’s starting tight end.
One option — and perhaps currently the best — through the first four weeks of the season while Ben Watson is suspended is Ryan Izzo, a 2018 seventh-round pick. Izzo is fully healthy — the biggest requirement for the role — while Watson, Matt LaCosse, Lance Kendricks and Stephen Anderson are not. The only other fully healthy tight end on the roster is Eric Saubert, who was acquired in a trade earlier this month.
Beyond his ability to move without restriction or pain, there are other things to like about Izzo’s game. He’s the best blocking tight end on the roster, he’s fairly athletic and he proved Thursday night in the Patriots’ preseason win over the Carolina Panthers — a game he started — that he can make tough catches.
“I think he has good instincts as a receiver, yes,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday in a conference call. “I think you saw that at Florida State.”
Izzo caught 54 passes for 761 yards with six touchdowns in four seasons with the Seminoles. He had 20 receptions for 317 yards with three touchdowns as a senior in 2017. Izzo was on injured reserve for his entire rookie year with a minor ailment.
“There are some things that we do from a route tree and that we have in our route tree that are probably a little different than what he had at Florida State,” Belichick said. “So, again, when you get a route, or especially a new route, and you go out and run it a couple times, each time is a little bit different. Whether it’s in a man, zone, or there’s a linebacker over you, a defensive end over you, or whatever it is, until you have enough of an opportunity to build up enough reps on the play, 20 or 30 reps where you’ve done everything multiple times and you’ve pretty much seen every look. It takes some time, and it takes some time with whoever’s throwing to you for them to anticipate what you’re going to do as a receiver and for you to anticipate where the ball’s going to be based on certain looks.
“So, yeah, those are instinctive things that sometimes they happen rather quickly; sometimes they take a little while. There’s a level of difficulty in understanding exactly how the quarterback and the receiver see a certain relationship or leverage by the defender — what to do in that situation. So, I think he has good instincts, but he has to probably learn different ones and apply different situations to what he’s doing here compared to what he did in college. So, there’s — however you want to look at it — either new learning or taking old learning and applying it to a different situation.”
LaCosse was expected to emerge as the starter this summer, but he’s been out with an injury since the first preseason game. Izzo started Week 3 of the preseason alongside Tom Brady and the rest of the first-team offense. Perhaps that’s a sign that he’ll be running with the starters when the real games begin Sept. 8.
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