Patriots

Tom Brady reacts to Patriots' challenge of replacing Rob Gronkowski at tight end

Tom Brady reacts to Patriots' challenge of replacing Rob Gronkowski at tight end

Replacing arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history is among the biggest challenges the New England Patriots will face this season, and the process of integrating a new group of tight ends into the offense has begun at training camp over the last week.

The Patriots have undergone quite a few changes at the tight end position since beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII back in February. Rob Gronkowski (retirement), Dwayne Allen (released) and Jacob Hollister (traded) all have left the team. Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, Benjamin Watson and Lance Kendricks all joined the team this offseason. With a lot of new faces, it's going to take time to develop a chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady and get everyone up to speed on the playbook. 

"(Rob Gronkowski is) a great player. To replace great players -- it's not like you just pick another one off the tight end tree. You can't just go out back," Brady told reporters after Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium. "You got to find guys that come in, want to put the work in and try to contribute. Between the guys we have out here now, which is Ben, Matt, Stephen, Ryan Izzo, Lance, who we just got. Those guys are trying to do everything they can do. They're all new players, so we've got to figure out how to get them up to speed to what our expectations are, the level of competition on a daily basis."

The best place to improve is in practice, and in each session the Patriots pass offense faces what Pro Football Focus recently ranked as the fifth-best secondary in the league. These reps against a talented defense are valuable for the new crop of Patriots tight ends.

"We've got a very good defense this year, those guys are challenging us everyday," Brady said. "It's hard to complete passes on our secondary, and that's just reality. It's actually great work for our offense to see how we measure up against a very good defense."

Watson is the only tight end on the roster with a lot of experience catching passes from Brady. The 38-year-old veteran spent the first six seasons of his career in New England, and he returned to the Patriots in the spring after briefly retiring. Watson will miss the first four games of the regular season due to a failed drug test, so someone will need to emerge as the No. 1 tight end before the team's Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 8.

LaCosse likely is the favorite to fill that role, but there's still a lot of training camp and four preseason games to go before the tight end depth chart is set for the season opener.

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Report: Ex-Patriots WR Danny Amendola to re-sign with Lions

Report: Ex-Patriots WR Danny Amendola to re-sign with Lions

Scratch that Danny Amendola-Patriots reunion.

Peter Schrager of the NFL Network reports the free-agent wide receiver is re-signing with the Detroit Lions, where he spent last season and had 62 catches for 678 yards. Former Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will enter his third season as Lions coach in 2020. 

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The 34-year-old left the Patriots after five seasons to sign with the Miami Dolphins in 2018 and may have burned a bridge or two with Bill Belichick. 

It had been speculated that perhaps bringing in a former reliable Tom Brady receiver might be part of a plan to lure Brady back to New England, with a report in late January that Amendola could come along to wherever Brady lands in free agency, but a Brady-Amendola reunion in Detroit isn't happening, either. 

Next Pats Podcast: Will Patriots go mobile at QB if Tom Brady leaves?

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Next Pats Podcast: Will Patriots go mobile at QB if Tom Brady leaves?

There's one big question that New England Patriots are facing this offseason. Who is going to be their starting quarterback in 2020?

For the past 20 seasons, the team hasn't really had questions at the position. It has always been Tom Brady's job. But with the 42-year-old set to hit free agency, the Patriots can't necessarily count on him returning unless they want to pay him what he's worth.

So, now the question for the Patriots becomes, what will life look like if Brady departs?

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On the latest episode of The Next Pats Podcast, which returns for its first episode of the 2020 offseason, Phil Perry is here to explore that question. And really what it all boils down to is what the Patriots are looking for in a potential successor.

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As Perry notes, it's likely to be one of two types of quarterback: The traditional pocket passer or a more mobile athlete in the mold of some of the recent success stories at the position.

Do the Patriots look for the next Brady? Uber-accurate, somebody who's going to sit in the pocket and absolutely dissect every little aspect of the defense that he is looking at. Or, do they go a different route? Do they go with an athlete? Do they get more mobile? Because talking to people this offseason, I'm getting a whiff -- I'm getting a scent that people believe the pocket passer might be dead.

Perry is joined by guests including Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo, Greg Cosell of ESPN and NFL Films, and NFL Network's Kurt Warner to answer questions about Brady's future and what his game has looked like in recent seasons.

For more thoughts about the Patriots offseason, check out the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast, available as part of the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network.