It’s been a long time since New England Patriots fans have had more concerns on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side, but that may be the case heading into the 2013 NFL season. The concerns do not stem from a lack of talent, though.
Health may be the key to the Patriots' offensive success this year.
Looking at the offense as it is currently constituted, there is no doubt that there is plenty of firepower. The problem lies within the fact that key contributors are either currently injured or have a history of having trouble staying on the field.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s struggles have been well-detailed over the past few weeks. Gronkowski has been dealing with an infection in his surgically repaired left forearm and is expected to have to go under the knife once again to change the plate that is fortifying the broken bone.
It cannot be understated how important the Pats' biggest bro is to the offense.
The one common factor in the losses of Super Bowl XLVI and this past year’s AFC Championship is that Gronk was not fully healthy. In the Super Bowl loss against the Giants, an ankle injury caused him to be a shell of himself, and he did not even make it on the field for the Championship game this past January against the Ravens.
With the departure of Wes Welker, it could be said that Gronkowski may be the most important player on the offense not named Tom Brady.
But then again, the same could be said about his fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez.
There is no question that Hernandez can be the X-factor for this offense. His versatility makes him one of the biggest mismatches in the NFL. But like his counterpart Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez has had trouble staying on the field in his first three seasons.
A high ankle sprain sidelined the talented tight end for a good chunk of the 2012 regular season and with the health of Gronk currently in question, it is imperative that Hernandez avoids any sort of injury this year.
He is a key cog in what the Patriots want to run on offense and his continued progress within this system will hopefully be able to combat some of the loss of production from Welker going to the Denver Broncos.
Now on to the man that was brought in to replace No. 83.
Danny Amendola has been a productive wideout when he has been on the field. The problem is that his times on the field has been few and far between due to a string of injuries. In the past four seasons Amendola has only made it through a full 16 game schedule once.
The pressure to replace a man who barely came off the field in Welker will be immense.
Amendola is not only going to be expected to come in and produce at that sort of level right away but he will also be expected to provide the toughness in the slot position that his predecessor provided for years. This may prove to be a harsh combination for a new player having to adjust to a completely new quarterback and offensive scheme.
Patriots fans can take solace in the fact that Amendola has some experience playing within a Josh McDaniels system, which should make for an easier transition. Still, experience within a particular system does not equate to being able to stay on the field, and all eyes will be on New England’s newest slot receiver in that regard.
The offense should be able to still keep a high level of production regardless of who is on the field. Fortunately for New England they are not lacking in bodies at the wide receiver and tight end position.
But the explosiveness that Patriots fans have become accustomed to will tie directly into the health of these three players.
Depth is always a good thing at any position for any NFL franchise, but these guys are game-changers. Teaming a healthy receiving corps that features Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Amendola with potential rookie standout Aaron Dobson and a continued solid running game may prove to be a deadly combination.
But it all depends on these guys being able to stay on the field and that’s certainly not the most comforting thought for Patriots Nation.