News that Rob Gronkowski will definitely undergo back surgery sent a shock wave through New England Patriots nation this week, leaving the world looking towards the next on the depth chart for production. Aaron Hernandez is among the most dangerous tight end weapons in the league, but is a complement to Gronk and not at all a replacement.
It’s possible Gronkowski may only miss training camp after the preventative surgery, but that combined with his multiple recent arm surgeries has to make Pats fans uneasy. Noted spine specialist Dr. Robert Watkins will perform the surgery in June according to a source of ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The Patriots will look to their depth where tight end Jake Ballard was supposed to step in last year should such misfortune befall the Pats, except Ballard too hit injured reserve, before the season even started.
“I’m doing my best I can to be 100 percent, and I’m doing as much as I can, as much as they’re allowing me to do out here,” Ballard said, via ESPN. “When I’m out here I feel like I’m putting in good work and getting better.”
Ballard made a name for himself catching passes from Eli Manning as a starter with the New York Giants in 2011, including the game-winning score against New England at the end of a regular-season tilt, so he’s definitely made an impression. His 647 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 through the air are decent and make him a much-needed piece of a tight-end centric Patriots offense, but his work at in-line blocking falls miles and miles short of what the Gronk offered in that regard.