One of the biggest storylines around the New England Patriots offense has been how tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will be incorporated into offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' attack. How can McDaniels' pass-happy spread offense get the dynamic tight ends involved?
McDaniels' offense may look a bit different than what we've seen before.
In 2007, the New England Patriots led a renaissance on offense, spreading the defense out with three, four and five wide receiver sets. That continued into 2008 as McDaniels continued to commandeer the offense.
The mentality and philosophy shifted somewhat after he left. After a period where their identity had been lost, at a time where head coach Bill Belichick admitted his offense was easy to defend, the Patriots have revolutionized the offensive NFL once again with their implementation and heavy utilization of two-tight end formations.
Their ability to throw the ball out of those sets has created league-wide envy to the point where many teams are trying to emulate what the Patriots have created.
And now, with the tight ends in addition to a bevy of offensive firepower that includes wide receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch, there's no easy-squeezy defense for this Patriots defense.
They could even look to spread the field with three receivers and two tight ends. It's all on the table as McDaniels offense merges with the Patriots offense, and vice versa.
Wide receiver Donte' Stallworth alluded to some of the changes in that regard after Friday's practice:
I think [the offense has] evolved because when Josh left, they incorporated some things while he was gone. Now that he's back, he's also incorporated some of the things that he brought back with him that he didn't do when he was here last time. ...That's what training camp is for: You put in a lot of stuff, you see what sticks, you do what you do best and you try to work on that as much as you can.
What the Patriots do best involves the two tight ends being on the field almost all the time.
McDaniels knows this, and now, his job is to get those guys into the mix.
"I think you've got to attack the defense as many places as you can," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, according toThe Boston Herald. "So from sideline to sideline, down the field, in the middle, throw to all the different receivers, backs, tight ends, the more difficult you can be to defend, the harder it is for people to stop you. So we'll try to do as many things well as we can."
In his history as an offensive coordinator and head coach, McDaniels hasn't gotten the tight ends incredibly involved. The best season for tight ends in McDaniels' offense came in 2006, with Patriots tight ends Benjamin Watson, Daniel Graham and David Thomas getting in on the action.
All due respect to those three, none are the caliber tight end of Hernandez and Gronkowski.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes obtained first-hand.