Patriots

Tom Brady has high expectations for tight ends in Rob Gronkowski's absence

Tom Brady has high expectations for tight ends in Rob Gronkowski's absence

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady knows things are going to be different. Yet at the same time, he's been through this before. 

Playing without Rob Gronkowski occasionally was part of life for the Patriots over the course of the last decade. But this year, now that Gronkowski has declared himself retired, they go into the season without the prospect of having the all-world tight end for at least some percentage of the year. That hasn't been the case since before Gronkowski was drafted in 2010. 

"It's the first time in a long time," Brady said of preparing for a season without Gronkowski. "He was such a great player for our team. I think like any season, things are different, and we're gonna have to adjust differently."

The question is, how will Brady and Josh McDaniels adjust without a player who -- even when he was banged up, as he was for much of last season's championship run -- remained the team's go-to option in the passing game and one of its most dominant run-blockers until he called it quits.

The 2019 Patriots appear to be a group that will once again lean on its running game, with five backs looking like locks for the roster, a fullback, and a mostly-veteran offensive line that has proven it can clear space in critical situations. They also look like a team that has some promising players in the passing game with first-round pick N'Keal Harry and intriguing free-agent pickup Maurice Harris joining the likes of Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett. 

But at tight end there is no one who looks like he will even sniff replacing the threats that Gronkowski provided on a snap-to-snap basis. Matt LaCosse looks like a good bet to be the team's primary receiving tight end early in the season with Ben Watson suspended. Rookie Ryan Izzo had a quiet week of minicamp but may be able to turn a few more heads when the pads come on for training camp as blocking is his specialty. 

Is there a true dual threat, though, who can make the Patriots an unpredictable attack every time they get to the line of scrimmage? That remains to be seen.

"Teams are gonna play us differently without him," Brady said. "We've seen it when he's been on the team so the other guys are getting up to speed. Matt's done a good job. Ben's done a good job. Stephen Anderson has done a good job. 

"That's gotta be a position of strength, even if it's not one player but multiple players doing different roles. There was times in my career before that where we've had similar approaches." 

The Patriots have typically had more invested at the position during Brady's career. He's right in that, when injuries struck, the offense had to piece together the tight end spot at times. But during Brady's career he's worked extensively with first-round pick Daniel Graham, first-round pick Benjamin Watson, second-round pick Rob Gronkowski, fourth-round pick Aaron Hernandez and second-round pick Martellus Bennett. 

LaCosse was undrafted in 2015 and had his best season (24 catches) last year. Izzo was a seventh-rounder in 2018. Anderson began his Patriots tenure last year on their practice squad. Watson, who could end up being the No. 1 option following his suspension, is going to be 39 years old in December. 

"He's got one [child] older than me," Brady said of Watson. "He's got 14 years of marriage on me, too. He's a great guy, he's been a great player in this league. You watch him play out here still and he's just got great ability. He's had great years recently, and that's what everyone expects. He's excited to be here and I've always loved being his teammate. It's going to be a good year for him."

This is as talent-strapped as the Patriots have been going into a season at the tight end position in some time, but Brady didn't sound like a guy willing to lower the bar for that group as they broke minicamp on Thursday.

"No one's gonna make any excuses for our offense," he said. "We're gonna do everything we can to be the best we can be, score every time we touch the ball. The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us."

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Sony Michel and Demaryius Thomas to start camp on PUP list

Sony Michel and Demaryius Thomas to start camp on PUP list

As the Patriots gear up for the start of training camp and another Super Bowl championship defense, a few key players will start camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP). 

Sony Michel and Demaryius Thomas are the big names on there, per Field Yates, while Mike Reiss reported Nate Ebner, Cole Croston, Deatrich Wise and Ken Webster will begin camp on the PUP list. 

All this means is the players on the PUP list at this time have not been cleared for on-field drills yet. They can come off any time since it is just training camp. If any of these players end training camp on the PUP list, they can be placed there for the regular season, where they won't be able to practice or play for the first six weeks of the year. 

On the bright side, it appears left tackle Isaiah Wynn will not begin camp on the PUP list, according to Mike Reiss. The Patriots selected Wynn in the first round of the 2018 draft, but the University of Georgia product missed the entire season with an Achilles injury.

Wynn projects to be the team's starting left tackle this season after the loss of Trent Brown in free agency, so it's a good sign he'll be able to participate right away at camp. 

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Patriots HOFers Brown, Harrison back on the field in Foxboro this week when training camp begins

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AP Images

Patriots HOFers Brown, Harrison back on the field in Foxboro this week when training camp begins

As the Patriots return to training camp this week, they'll be plenty of familiar faces getting back to work and some new additions. 

Among those who know they're way around the fields in Foxboro and will be out there again are a Patriots Hall of Famer and soon-to-be Pats HOFer, Troy Brown and Rodney Harrison. 

Brown, the former versatile receiver inducted into the team's Hall in 2012, will be on the field working with receivers again, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. While not officially on the coaching staff, Brown worked with first-round pick N'Keal Harry, free-agent signee Maurice Harris and veteran Julian Edelman, along with other receivers at minicamp in June. He's lent a hand to Bill Belichick and special teams coach Joe Judge, who is also doubling as receivers coach after several staff departures in the offseason. Brown's former teammate Jerod Mayo is on the staff and will work with linebackers.

Harrison, who will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame at a Gillette Stadium ceremony on July 29 along with late offensive lineman Leon Gray, is scheduled to arrive on Thursday, when the team begins practices. While not coaching, Harrison, the former hard-hitting safety who now works for NBC as an NFL analyst, will be a visitor on the field and is never shy about sharing his insights and opinions, such as going into the Pats Hall means more than being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall in Canton.

"To get named a Hall of Famer to the greatest organization in sport ever, it just means so much to me," Harrison told Reiss. "I'm still stunned. I can't believe I'm in the Patriots Hall of Fame. All I can do is shake my head at this point."

As for the current edition of the Patriots, Harrison expects them to be in a familiar position:  "I know Kansas City is really good...but I still think the Pats are the best team in the AFC."

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