In my article of June 20th (archived here), I attempted to lay to rest the plethora of concerns for the New England Patriots and the disruption of their vaunted passing attack. Specifically, I outlined how they will deal with the gigantic holes left in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez arrest and Rob Gronkowski's surgeries and recovery uncertainty.
Stories were flying fast and furious that Bill Belichick was on the ropes, and the offense. led by Tom Brady, that led the league just a short year ago, would never recover from the losses to the tight end position, on top of the shredding of the receiving corps. But I have not been one of those writers.
I have maintained that Belichick, the Patriot offense, and Tom "Terrific" Brady will be just fine. Well... I was wrong...
I was wrong that Aaron Hernandez might not be guilty. I was wrong that Gronk might be ready to play in week one. I was wrong that Jake Ballard would probably be the starter in week one.
But I was dead—on when I said that Belichick has something up his sleeve. We just haven't gotten much of a glimpse of it yet.
Will Tim Tebow magically transform into the offensive weapon many of us envision? Training camp is over, and so is the frenzy of media coverage that may be hindering Belichick from unleashing the hidden talents of Tebow. We can only wait, and watch, and hope.
But the bigger story is one Zach Sudfeld. He has been jokingly dubbed "Baby Gronk", and I, for one, think it will stick... and in a big way. I am only going to say this once: pick Sudfeld for your fantasy tight end. He has done nothing but steal the thunder of the true Gronk. Once Gronkowski is cleared to play... watch out! Aaron who?!
And I agree with Andy Hart that Jake Ballard may not even make the final cut to start the season as a Patriot. With Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui being serviceable complements to either Sudfeld or Gronkowski or both, and Shane Vereen helping to fill a role as a back/tight end/receiver hybrid, Brady will not be hurting for options other than his wide—outs.
In fact, even if there is some concern for the health of Danny Amendola, the tight end position will actually be more than capable of carrying the load and providing consistent outlets in the passing game. And don't worry if the rookie receivers don't break—out right away, they will do their part and with very little learning curve, in my opinion.
I have added Shane Vereen because he is clearly being given a much larger role than pass catching running back. His ability and talent appears to have no limits... just what the Belichick ordered.
And let's not forget that Rob Gronkowski will most likely miss no more than six games; that depends on whether he is relegated to the PUP list. The Patriots could choose to keep him on the active roster, ready to unleash his beast mode at any time. The day he finally gets on the field is the day defensive coordinators pee their pants. Imagine two Gronks to defend at the same time!
Every NFL team wishes they had even one tight end option that looked as good as what the Patriots seem to have in abundance. Patriot Nation can rest easy as the regular season approaches knowing that Bill Belichick has things under control. Tom Brady may just be looking at his third MVP award and his fourth Super Bowl ring, with a little help from his friends.