Dwayne Allen

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today. we're looking at a position where the Patriots have arguably the best player that’s ever manned it in his presumed prime. But tight end is suddenly a tenuous spot for New England.



This became – contrary to the Patriots hopes – a one-man position. Rob Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. The rest of the tight ends – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Martellus Bennett – combined for 20 catches and six of those came from Bennett who played just two games before heading to injured reserve. Gronk was – and is – the best tight end in the game and one of its most dominating offensive weapons. After losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, the Patriots offense became tremendously Gronk-reliant. They got away with it. But they clearly wanted more from Dwayne Allen than what they got or they wouldn’t have gone after Bennett when he became available.

Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Will Tye, Jacob Hollister

All tight ends on the roster are under contract.


Publicity grab or legitimate consideration? What exactly to make of Gronk’s reported dalliance with the WWE and his idle desire to be an action movie star (also reported)? Both have the earmarks of brand-building genius. It’s a page torn from the business plans of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard or Conor McGregor – ruminating on retirement and expressing interest in other public pursuits exponentially ratchets up public interest in both the main gig and the potential side gig. Gronk himself might not be that savvy and calculating to mildly hold the Patriots fortunes hostage but Gronk Inc. certainly is. Then again, maybe he legitimately is weighing it. The “will he or won’t he” conversation will sustain buzz and has to in some way impact the Patriots’ offseason plans. The presumption has to be that Gronk returns but this is anything but a layup. Which means the need is a Level-8


There is a nice crop of tight ends hitting the market. Virtually all of them come with the same nagging health issues that Gronk has (had). Jimmy Graham is the biggest name in the group. His tepid blocking skills may make him unattractive to the Patriots, but never let it be said the Pats don’t like to take a flier on a once-electric player who’s on the backside. At 31, Graham’s coming off a 10-touchdown season, though his yards per catch went down to 9.1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see New England pursue. The Eagles' second tight end, Trey Burton, is 26 and stuck behind Zach Ertz. An undrafted rookie, the kid who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl is targeted sparingly in Philly but is a smooth player. He also plays special teams (boing!). Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally got his stuff together with the Jets in 2017 and he’s only 25. He’s no dummy, he’s only acted like one in the past and it seems like he’s got a handle on it now. He’d need face-to-face vetting but he’s got upside. Then there’s Tyler Eifert. Still just 27, Eifert’s played in 10 games the past two seasons and had season-ending back surgery in the fall (it was performed by the same doctor who treated Gronk). He’s played 39 games in five seasons. Terrific talent. Always broken.


I like this Dallas Goedert kid from South Dakota State. Also, Dalton Schultz from Stanford gets checkmarks as a blocker and competent receiver. Neither of them are first-round prospects at this point. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are regarded as the top prospects. Hurst is a very good pass-catcher with a huge catch radius. He’s a 24-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates draftee. Andrews is smooth as a receiver but not seen as a potent blocker. Same with Mike Gesicki from Penn State who’s the best athlete along with Hurst but doesn’t impress with his blocking.


Assuming Gronk is returning, the Patriots can go at it a number of ways. There’s not a “can’t miss” prospect out there, so drafting Hurst or Gesicki in the first couple of rounds means they’ll have to live with the shortcomings or hope they can improve them. Given other needs, they may not want to spend on “maybes” near the top of the draft. Too many drafts have been like that, especially with second-rounders. It seems unlikely they’ll be really interested in counting on either Allen or Bennett to provide anything in 2018. If they take a run at the Eagles’ Burton and pay him a crapload, Gronk will lose his mind. Screw it. They should take Hurst. We will change our minds several times between now and April but that’s where we are now.


Patriots win the turnover battle on the coaching staff, too

Patriots win the turnover battle on the coaching staff, too

FOXBORO -  Josh McDaniels stood on the Patriots practice fields before the start of their first spring workout and spoke about starting from scratch. 

"Every year is a different team," he said. "This is a different team obviously than last year's. But this is 17 years for me, and never once have we had the same group come back and really be the same to start with the next year. We gotta work hard now, create a foundation, learn about these guys that we have that we don't really have a lot of experience with, and start to build that trust all over again."


But as McDaniels embarked on that process, he had an advantage over most offensive coordinators around the league. It was the same advantage from which Matt Patricia benefited as he began working with the Patriots defense: continuity.

McDaniels and Patricia began the season as two of seven coordinators in the NFL who had held their positions since 2012. It's a jarring statistic when one considers that almost 90 percent (55 of 62, the Texans and 49ers don't have offensive coordinators on staff) of all coordinator jobs have turned over at least once in the past five years. 

The understanding that both Patricia and McDaniels have been around the Patriots much longer than five seasons -- that was when Patricia was officially given the coordinator's title, and it was when McDaniels returned for his second go-round at the job -- only bolsters the point that the continuity the Patriots boast at the top of their coaching tree is unmatched. 

Belichick, McDaniels and Patricia's run as a trio, though, could be wrapping up. Both McDaniels and Patricia are frequently mentioned as two of the top head-coaching candidates in football, and there could be about a dozen jobs open after the season.

If one or both decide to leave, they could be replaced by Belichick with in-house candidates to maintain a level of consistency. Receivers coach Chad O'Shea and linebackers coach Brian Flores have seen play-caller reps in the preseason and would be among the options. But if Patricia and McDaniels walked out the door, a measure of familiarity would leave with them.

"We have a lot of consistency on our entire staff," Belichick said back in July. "I thought that was very helpful this year in a relatively short offseason. Those guys were able to – when I say 'those guys,' the entire staff – were able to get into things pretty quickly. There wasn’t really a [period of] catching new staff members up or bringing them up to speed or going over things.

"Pretty much everybody’s been through everything that we’re doing, both in the offseason and the regular season, our game preparation and so forth. Not that we don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m not saying that. But at least we have a level of experience of all doing it together. So, yeah. It’s good."

That consistency on the staff helped the Patriots make one of their biggest acquisitions of the last few years when they coaxed Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement. If the coaches rooms had been lined with new faces in 2015, he might not have been so willing to return.  

"[We] know what to expect of one another," the 69-year-old offensive line coach said. "They know what to expect of us. I think all of that stuff makes it so much easier. I don't know if I would've ever come back if Josh wouldn't have been [here]. Because Josh was here, that was one of the huge reasons . . . And all the guys on defense. You know all those guys. It's really, it's a good bunch of guys to be around in every respect. You come into the office every day. Egos are checked at the door. Just seems like it's a healthy environment."

It's an unusually healthy one compared to the rest of the league, like an NFL medical marvel that science can't solve - around forever and still going strong. 

Walking through the bowels of Gillette Stadium over the summer, Patricia was asked how he could explain the rare longevity that he and McDaniels have enjoyed as coordinators. 

"What I will say is I do feel very blessed," Patricia said. "Especially working with Josh, Nick Caserio, and Bill, and really my staff, of having that continuity. I think we know we have something special with that and we enjoy it. 

"When you get in those situations, you tend to savor them, and you tend to really appreciate them. It's great. Josh and I have been together a long time, from being together on the same side of the ball to now being able to coordinate our sides. Having that relationship and that background, I mean, I'm very, very lucky."

For the players that McDaniels and Patricia coach, the feeling is mutual. Those who have played elsewhere before coming to the Patriots seem to be particularly thankful to land in a place where the path to success is clear and has been manicured by the same sets of hands for years. 

"'I've been in situations where we've had new OCs, new coaches come in, new quarterbacks, and it's not easy getting guys where they need to be," Danny Amendola said. "The biggest thing is having the ability to show film with consistency of the offensive coordinator from past years, and what he wants, and what needs to happen to be successful. That's just what Coach McDaniels offers for us. It's good because there's no gray area. It's pretty black and white: 'This is what you need to do to be successful.' He can put on tape of guys doing it successfully in previous years. The consistency is there, and I know Coach McDaniels loves to be here and everybody loves to play for him.

"I remember when I first met him, he came to St. Louis and we were coming off the lockout. We didn't have any time in OTAs together. We were literally thrown into camp, we had two weeks before our first preseason game, and it was tough. It was tough, man. He was showing us Patriots clips. He was showing Broncos. We didn't know where we stacked up in the room. There were a lot of different variables. 

"That consistency we have now is huge for our offense. Every coach, you can turn to. Chad's been here for about 10 years. [Running backs coach Ivan Fears] has been here for no telling how long...The consistency and the template to just playing good football is here. It might be a lot to grasp at first for a new guy. But once you kind of grasp it, it gets a lot easier. It's there for you."

Despite the Patriots running challenging systems both offensively and defensively, the acclimation process for new additions is made easier by the multiple layers of coaching that dots the locker room. With consistent teaching points from year to year, established players end up becoming valuable sounding boards for their newer teammates.

"When you have stability like that, it's huge because guys know what to expect," David Harris said. "They're familiar with the playbook. Being a new guy coming in, a lot of times I can just ask another player, 'How do I play this?' Or, 'What do I do?' instead of having one-on-one meetings with the position coach or the defensive coordinator. That's a huge benefit, the continuity of the coaches here. They've been successful a long time, and it's working."

Harris knows how the other half lives. In 10 years with the Jets, he played under three head coaches (Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles) and four defensive coordinators (Bob Sutton, Mike Pettine, Dennis Thurman and Kacy Rodgers). 

Chris Hogan saw even more regular turnover in his four years in Buffalo. First, he played under coach Chan Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins. Then it was Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett. Then Rex Ryan took over and Greg Roman ran the offense. 

Dwayne Allen's run in Indianapolis was similarly turbulent. He played for only one head coach in his five years with the team, Chuck Pagano, but the offense changed hands three times. Bruce Arians, Pep Hamilton and Rob Chudzinski all had cracks at it.

For Allen, New England's single-minded approach offensively was refreshing to step into. When he had questions, there was Rob Gronkowski (seven years in the offense) and James Develin (five) to lean on in meetings. On the field, if Nate Solder (six years in the offense) or Marcus Cannon (six) sensed something was off, they could set Allen straight.

"No matter's who's around me," Allen said in camp, "with the ones and the twos, I'm able to turn to my left and my right and ask a question, and they're able to point me in the right direction."

Hogan remembered feeling the same way going into last season. If he wanted them, there were sources of on-the-field advice everywhere. It was a dynamic that couldn't exist if everyone was under a new boss for the third time in four seasons.

"There's guys that have been doing it," Hogan said in camp. "They got guys that can teach people the offense. It doesn't have to always be Josh. It can be Julian [Edelman], Tom [Brady], Danny, [Matthew] Slater, Gronk. They've got guys that have been in this offense for a while.

"You have to have veteran leadership. It doesn't have to always be Josh. I think that's why people can come in here and be successful, because there are so many guys that can teach the offense, coach it. There's not a lot of turnover here. Players, yeah. But the coaches have been here. They know what they're doing. They know what they want."

As long as Belichick remains the head coach and Brady remains the quarterback, the schematic changes will in all likelihood be minimal even if the coordinators move on. But if the voices change, and if the methods change, it would stand to reason that a degree of uncertainty would follow.

McDaniels is a close friend of Brady's, someone who can pull out a game plan from years ago for Brady to execute after a quick sideline powwow, someone Brady immediately acknowledged after throwing one of the most important touchdowns of his career. Patricia is a coach who has been able to connect with his players on multiple levels, tweaking them to give their best, hugging them when they need it, and all the while maintaining his reputation as the rocket scientist with the beautiful football mind.

Those qualities aren't easily replaced, and if the Patriots are forced to change coordinators this offseason it could take some time to reboot. Change can be hard. And change at the top is something the Patriots have managed to avoid during the latest iteration of their dynasty.





#FridayBag: Will Hogan be eased back into Patriots offense?

#FridayBag: Will Hogan be eased back into Patriots offense?

FOXBORO - Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

MG: Who said Jimmy is just the second-greatest QB of all-time??  

PP: Usually anywhere from 10 to 20 questions, depending on the week. Thanks as always for checking in, Scott.

MG: I am a fan of the targeting rule in college and taking it to review during the game to determine whether or not it’s a 15-yard penalty or that plus an ejection. That said, I don’t think it’s ruining the game. I think the games have been pretty damn good this year. Competitive. 

PP: Hey, Trevor. Touched on this in a story this week. He'd be a huge addition. His red-zone numbers were pretty astounding before getting injured. Problem is, we're still not sure yet if he'll be a go. And even with Rob Gronkowski out this week, I don't think there will be any rush to get him back. The Patriots could lose Monday night in Miami, and as long as they beat the Steelers in their highly-anticipated Week 15 matchup, they'll be in the running for the No. 1 seed in the conference. The Patriots will never say it the way Mike Tomlin did, but the Steelers game is really the one that matters right now.

MG: MURPH!!!! I think Hogan will be eased back into the equation. Maybe they shave half of Dorsett’s snaps (he had 48 last week without a single target, although Mr. Brady had something to do with that). 2) Cefali does not wear lifts and he may now be in therapy after the Twitter beatdown he received, even if it was justified (that shirt was ugly). 3) the Pats have struggled setting the edge this year. Cassius Marsh was awful at it, Lee struggled at time last week and I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in the season-long (essentially) absence of Dont’a Hightower. I know they’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to improve in that regard but maybe it’s just as simple as they don’t have personnel that is sound in that area.

PP: Now we're talking, Rich. Really hard to say one way or the other. Both obviously very well-respected offensive minds. I think because of Tom Brady's experience in the system, the number of plays available to Josh McDaniels is probably wider than those available to Charlie Weis. After one sideline conversation, Brady and McDaniels can drum up an old game plan from 10 years ago to attack an opponent. That wasn't the case for Brady and Weis in 2004.

MG: Jacob, he’s certainly built a level of trust with Tom Brady that didn’t exist when the season started or even when the Pats rolled into Denver a few weeks back. But I don’t think he’s that kind of player at this stage of his career. There’s a stiffness to his route running that makes me think it’s unlikely he’ll ever get more than three or four targets in a game (unless Miami doesn’t feel like covering him).

PP: The best.

MG: There won’t be any personnel changes, unless Fleming remains the right tackle in place of the injured LaAdrian Waddle (who’s playing in place of the injured Marcus Cannon). This offense has had to change in part because of the Edelman injury but also because of the acquisition of Brandin Cooks and then -- to a lesser degree -- Phil Dorsett. They’re more vertical threats. If you’re going vertical, Brady is going to have to hang on to the ball a lot longer than you’re accustom to. So there long and short of it is TB12 will get hit. 

PP: Mr. Q! I would say most players do not know and do not really care. They see enough of Belichick's Breakdowns live and in person. If they've made a good play, those sessions are the ones where it's nice to get a mention.

MG: Donny, it’s rare. I can only think of a few times a year where they’ll go inside the bubble and it’s not always because of Mother Nature. Bill thinks like my old college coach Don Miller thought. Your skin is waterproof. Deal with it. If it’s cold, wear layers. 

MG: Billy, I’m thinking he’s already a carbon copy of Carl Banks and with one or two more games like he just had, Lawrence Taylor better beware. But seriously, Lee has been a nice addition thus far. They needed a body and he’s been more than that thus far. Now the question becomes: can he sustain it?

PP: OK, I'll say it. It was a down week for Bag contributions.