Jake Ballard seems to be losing ground in the tight end battle. (FILE: USA TODAY Images)

After watching the Patriots snag Jake Ballard off of waivers last year, it seemed like a move that could pay dividends down the road in terms of giving them depth with a player who seemed to have a lot of potential.

The only problem is, Ā Ballard’s health may keep him from living up to it.

Early on he started off relatively strong but has declined over the last week, including missing Saturday’s scrimmage. Ā Watching Monday’s practice he participated but didn’t look comfortable on the field and he appears to be favoring it. Ā That’s not exactly a good sign.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Saturday’s absence was due to the fact Ballard still felt soreness in his knee and missed the practice as a precaution.

Watching Aaron Hernandez get arrested and charged with murder last month as well as all the medical setbacks by tight end Rob Gronkowski, it seemed that Ballard’s chances at earning a role seemed to be his for the taking. Ā The biggest question simply seemed to be how well he would come back after recoveringĀ Ā from two knee surgeries.

He said a little over a week ago that the knee felt “a little weird” but seemed to be in good spirits.

ā€œThe knee feels just a little weird and thatā€™s just because half of it is numb from the surgery anyway – all the nerves have been cut,” said Ballard. Ā “Iā€™m never going to feel like I was but Iā€™m definitely feeling better the more Iā€™m out here.ā€

For now it seems to be bothering him, and while he’s trying to build confidence in it Zach Sudfeld has come into his own and seems to have a strong grasp on earning a roster spot after taking the majority of first team reps in recent practices. Ā Daniel Fells is also playing well as is Michael Hoomanawanui, so it’s going to be up to Ballard to overcome his doubts and start showing he can return to being the same player who caught 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns two seasons ago.

If not, the strong showings from other players may be enough to cost Ballard a place on this roster.