The New England Patriots will have to reach deep into their bag of
tight ends tricks if they want any hope of replacing tight end Aaron Hernandez, who left Sunday's game against the Cardinals with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable to return.
While the Patriots offense is loaded with weapons in wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, tight end Rob Gronkowski and the emerging running back Stevan Ridley, Hernandez figured to play a huge part in the Patriots offense this year. He pulled in six receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown in New England's Week 1 win over the Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots just signed Hernandez to a seven-year, $41.115-million contract extension back in late August. He has missed two games in each of the past two seasons with injuries; the mounting number of injuries are becoming enough to wonder if the tread could wear thin quickly on the young tight end.
The Patriots certainly hope not. They have come to love the "12" personnel grouping of one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. It has been a staple of the offense as the team aims to keep its five best skill position players on the field at all times.
In an effort to supplement those tendencies, the Patriots have brought in several tight ends to back up their two young playmakers, keeping four on their first 53-man roster.
Tight end Daniel Fells has been inactive for the first two games of the season. Before the season began, they designated tight end Visanthe Shiancoe with the new injured reserve tag, which allows them to bring him back sometime after Week 6.
Who will be asked to carry a bigger load with Aaron Hernandez gone?
For now, they could turn to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, a third-year tight end drafted by the St. Louis Rams. The former Illinois product was selected in the fifth round after pulling in 40 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns in his final three years.
But no matter who replaces Hernandez, no one is likely to replace his versatility. His ability to line up at wide receiver, tight end and even running back could be tough to replicate.
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 are obtained firsthand.