The overwhelming youthfulness of the New England Patriots’ tight end room is almost comical.
As of Monday afternoon, the Patriots had six players on their roster who are listed as tight ends (not including tight end/defensive end Rashod Berry, who’s played on defense in training camp).
Four of them — Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Jake Burt and Paul Quessenberry — never have played in an NFL game of any sort. Another — ex-Oakland Raider Paul Burton — has only seen game action in the preseason.
The lone member of that position group who’s played in a real, actual, meaningful professional football game is 24-year-old Ryan Izzo, who has exactly six games of NFL experience and was essentially benched for ineffectiveness midway through last season.
And with the Patriots seeming to favor bargain-bin free-agent options like Butler, Quessenberry and the already-released Alex Ellis over more accomplished available veterans, it seems unlikely a player like Delanie Walker will come aboard before their Sept. 13 season opener.
With youth, though, comes potential, of which Asiasi and Keene — both of whom New England traded up to select in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft — have plenty.
The marquee rookies both spoke with reporters Monday for the first time since their draft-night conference calls in April.
“Coming from the collegiate level, coming from UCLA, this is a big transition going into the NFL,” Asiasi said. “I think that in and of itself brings its own challenges. I think for me, it?s applying myself and putting in those extra hours of studying every night and then putting it on tape for the next day and keep on improving.”
Asiasi, who played in a pro-style offense under UCLA coach Chip Kelly, has been heavily involved in his first Patriots training camp. On several occasions, while most of the roster practices special teams on a separate field, he’s joined established pass-catchers like Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and James White for side sessions with Patriots quarterbacks, allowing him to work with Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer on his timing and route-running.
“I think it?s a challenge for us rookies coming right now because of the whole situation,” Asiasi said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out spring practice and the NFL preseason. “I think each and every day we?re taking it day by day. Trying to see and look at the things we can work on and seeing the things we?re doing well in. Keeping those tools sharp, but also putting different tools in the toolbox.
Keene, an H-back at Virginia Tech, could play multiple roles in New England’s offense. Asiasi, who roomed with Keene at the NFL Scouting Combine, said the former Hokie “brings a lot to the table that complements the rest of the team?s game.”
“To be honest with you, I really don’t know what my role is going to be,” Keene said. “I’m preparing to do a lot of different things, so I’ve got to take a step back and learn as much as I can about the offense. And whatever they ask me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. So I don’t know exactly what my role will be.”
Asiasi caught 44 passes for 461 yards and four touchdowns last season — his only year as a collegiate starter. Keene, a three-year starter in Blacksburg, posted a 21-240-5 line in 2019 while adding 11 carries for 33 yards.
Both players have shown solid blocking chops in camp, and the duo stood out from a pass-catching perspective Monday, with Asiasi catching four passes on five targets in team drills and Keene catching all three passes thrown his way.
It remains unclear what the Patriots’ tight end hierarchy will look like in Week 1. It’s worth noting Izzo, the lone holdover from 2019, quietly has had a nice camp, as well.
“Devin and Dalton have worked hard,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before Monday’s practice. “They?ve been out there, they?ve taken a lot of reps, they continue to get better. They have a long way to go, as do all the rookies that we?ve drafted, but we?re seeing progress. We?ll see.”
Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots