Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
During the New England Patriots decade of dominance in the AFC East, it seems that whenever one player goes down, another has always been ready to step into that breach.
If recent news has been any indication, then the Patriots are going to need tight end Jake Ballard to do just that.
Star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has already had four operations on the broken forearm that cost him five games in 2012, is now set to go under the knife for back surgery later in June.
That leaves Gronkowski's status for training camp (and even Week 1) very much in doubt, and places considerable pressure on Ballard to pick up some of the slack.
With that said, Ballard isn't exactly the picture of health either.
The 25-year-old, who had 38 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns for the New York Giants as a rookie in 2011, missed all of last year with a torn ACL.
According to Paul Perillo of patriots.com, Ballard is still running with a "discernible limp," although Ballard told Perillo that his rehab is proceeding as scheduled:
I’m not full-go for the whole practice. It’s not like they’re just throwing me to the wolves. I’m talking to the trainers and coaches and they tell me what I’m limited to do and what they think I’m going to be able to do and we just gradually improve from there day to day and week to week.
With all the uncertainty facing Gronkowski at this time, Ballard's first year on the field in New England could begin with the Patriots asking him to play a significant role offensively.