New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 12, 2017 at 6:29 am ET

Gronkowski’s Health Always A Key Concern

The Patriots head into training camp in just 15 days and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Tight End position.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So next up are the tight ends. The Patriots have six players vying for roster spots.

This position will ultimately be judged on how healthy Rob Gronkowski can stay in 2017. When he’s good to go and on the field, he’s the most dangerous tight end in the game and an absolute game changer.

The team knows that just by the nature of his game and how he plays, he’s apt to get dinged up. That’s why the second tight end spot is very important and Allen will have to be a guy who can be relied upon.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Gronkowski is still the gold standard among tight ends in the NFL. No one possesses the entire package that he brings to the table. He has the type of athleticism at the position where he can attack the field down the seams, move the chains, and be a huge physical target in the red zone. And he’s an outstanding blocker in the running game.

He’s one of those players that opposing teams must game plan around. He creates mismatches, as linebackers can’t run with him and safeties, aren’t big enough to stand up to his physicality.

Gronkowski, along with Julian Edelman are two of Tom Brady’s most favorite targets. Both have tremendous football I.Q.s and can read the defense pre-snap and understand and see exactly what Brady is seeing. This frequently means that no audible has to be called. QB and receiver are in tune and the play is changed silently as the two have worked on their reads and chemistry after long hours on the practice field.

Gronkowski in minicamp appeared 100 percent healthy with no restrictions, which is great news for 2017. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots manage his snaps in preseason and training camp as they have plenty of players to use. They want him healthy for a stretch run, not necessarily an early September matchup.

Allen was brought in to replace the departed Martellus Bennett who was a big addition in 2016 and had much to do with the team’s success during the Super Bowl run. Allen is known as a tremendous run blocker, just like Bennett and that will be how the coaches judge him first. Once the pads come on in camp, is when Allen’s fit can be judged.

We saw the commentary on his struggles during the first day of minicamp, his drops and Bill Belichick’s acerbic comments to him about “this isn’t Indy” on that rainy day. We watched Allen closely the next day and I thought he did fine.

Dwayne Allen catches a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. (SBalestrieri photo)

Obviously, if he struggles during training camp it will be a concern moving forward but I’m not buying into much of the talk that he’s on the bubble. He’s had good but not great numbers in the passing game but has been very productive in the red zone.

That could have a significant impact as teams usually pay close attention to Gronkowski in the red area. If Allen’s performance holds true to form, he could have some very good production in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: None

On the Bubble: James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton
The Patriots usually like their third tight end to be more of a blocker but in the case of O’Shaughnessy, that may change. The Patriots spent some time looking at him prior to the 2015 NFL Draft and when the opportunity availed itself, they swung a deal with the Chiefs to trade for him. He could be looked at as a move tight end as opposed to the traditional in-line role as well as a special teams’ performer.

Matt Lengel was on the team a year ago and is a big (6’7, 265-pound) blocking tight end who the team snatched off the Bengals’ practice squad. He chipped in with a couple of catches, including an 18-yard touchdown against the Jets, but he’s a blocker first and foremost.

Jacob Hollister is an intriguing UDFA tight end out of Wyoming. (SBalestrieri photo)

Hollister comes to the Patriots via the UDFA route from Wyoming where he had a standout senior season with 32 catches for 515 yards and seven touchdowns. He is more of a move tight end (6’4, 240-pounds) than an inline blocker. He’s still a bit raw and needs to work on his blocking, but he turned our heads a bit during minicamp so he’ll bear watching in training camp.

Cotton is an intriguing guy, the 6’4, 250 tight end had pretty pedestrian numbers at Nebraska but the Cornhuskers are very much a running team first. For a good sized tight end, Cotton showed some nice athleticism during his Pro Day. He ran a very respectable 4.80 but his time in the 3-Cone Drill, a Patriots staple was what turned heads. Cotton ran that in 6.87 which would have been second among tight ends at the Combine in Indianapolis. He also turned in an impressive performance with a 127-inch broad jump and his 35.5-inch vertical leap which would’ve been sixth in Indy. He’s a longshot to make the team but he’s got the Bo Pelini connection that Belichick likes.

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