Aaron Hernandez (USPresswire)
The Patriots have something no other team in the NFL has, two very effective receiving tight ends. Both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have helped turn the position from support players into game-changers. A gameplan built around mismatches from that pair is giving defensive coordinator's fits.
Patriots' 2 tight ends pose problems for foes
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)
Sept 15, 2011
Before reaching the NFL, Aaron Hernandez watched Antonio Gates to pick
up tips on playing tight end in the pros.
Sunday, Hernandez will get a much closer look when New England opens
its home season against Gates and the San Diego Chargers. And the
Patriots have two productive players - both in only their second season
- at that position.
Hernandez caught seven passes for 103 yards,
Rob Gronkowski grabbed six for 86 and each scored a touchdown in a
38-24 win over the Miami Dolphins in which the Patriots gained a
franchise-high 622 yards Monday.
''The skill set of both those
players really allows us to be flexible,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday. ''Not only are they good blockers, but they can
catch the ball, too. You can run it behind them, you can play-action
pass and then they've become pretty efficient in the passing game also,
just to spread them out and be able to run them on different run
combinations. They're very good players.''
6-feet-6 and 265 pounds, is the better blocker. Hernandez, 6-1 and 245
pounds, sometimes looks like a wide receiver speeding downfield before
and after the catch.
''I was more of a receiver growing up and
running back through my whole life,'' Hernandez said, ''but when I went
to college and came here, you had to start blocking a little bit, so
that's what I'm improving on.''
His learning wasn't confined to
the classroom and the practice field. He'd watch tight ends like Gates
and Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts in some of their games.
watched them before I got to the league, and try to take some things
from them,'' Hernandez said. ''They're great players. If I see them
playing, I'll definitely watch their games and see what they can do and
what can help me.''
Gates wasn't drafted coming out of college
in 2003, but in his first eight seasons, he caught 537 passes for 69
touchdowns. He had at least 50 receptions in each of his last seven.
Last year, the Patriots drafted Gronkowski in the second round out of
Arizona and Hernandez in the fourth out of Florida.
is really athletic and fast. He's kind of a wide receiver,'' Patriots
cornerback Leigh Bodden said. ''Gronk is fast, but he's not as fast as
Hernandez. And he's big. He can body you.
''And Gates is a
bodier. He's not overly fast, he's not quick, but he just finds ways to
get open. You give him a small window, he'll catch it.''
rookie, Hernandez had 45 receptions for six touchdowns, while
Gronkowski had 42 for 10. A position of weakness for the Patriots
became a strength that could continue for a long time.
Gates, who has Philip Rivers throwing to him, Hernandez and Gronkowski
haul in passes from one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, reigning MVP
''Tom's definitely going to find the mismatch,''
Hernandez said. ''When he gets to the line of scrimmage and he sees the
biggest mismatch, you know he's coming'' to that receiver.
Hernandez considers himself a tight end. After all, how many wide
receivers weigh as much as he does?
But he also can line up in the slot or the backfield.
they're doing with that personnel group is awfully impressive,''
Chargers coach Norv Turner said, ''They've always been a great passing
team, but to add the number of explosive plays really jumped out at
you. When (Hernandez) starts moving around and is in the slot like that
... he's capable of being an explosive wide receiver.
''He's a matchup problem for defensive teams.''
two versatile tight ends, the Patriots can be more diverse on offense,
lining players up in spots that can confuse the defense and running
complex patterns into open areas.
''You can move them around and
give them different assignments and they're able to handle that,'' New
England coach Bill Belichick said, ''but that's part of the nature of
the tight end position, I think. Whether you're talking about Gates or
(Miami's Anthony) Fasano or whoever we play next. That's what most
''Maneuvering those guys around, putting them in
different positions, having them do different things, that's what
creates problems for the defense.''
Opponents also must
concentrate on wide receivers Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Chad
Ochocinco, and running back Danny Woodhead on pass patterns. That also
helps Gronkowski and Hernandez get free.
''It opens a lot for me
because they'll forget about me or forget about Gronkowski,'' Hernandez
said. ''I'd say Gronk can really do everything. He could block any type
of (defensive) end. He could get open versus anybody. He's very dynamic
and can do so much.
''I'm limited in the blocking game but I'm
improving. I'm more of a receiving-type tight end. We work off each
other. Because we're both so different, it gets us both open a lot.''
So far, so good.
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