Patriots Rookie Tight Ends Fail to Capitalize With Gronkowski Absent

James ChristensenContributor IAugust 11, 2014

New England Patriots tight end Justin Jones runs on the field during an NFL football training camp practice at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, July 27, 2014, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

Asa Watson and Justin Jones—two undrafted free-agent tight ends signed by the New England Patriots—couldn't have asked for a better opportunity against the Washington Redskins. Veterans Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams were all being held out, and the game was theirs to dominate.

They barely left a mark.

Watson totaled 28 snaps, receiving zero targets in the passing game and struggling with his run-blocking, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Jones played 32 snaps and was thrown one ball, resulting in a drop. His blocking was even worse than Watson's.

While the rookies struggled, fullback James Develin—who could fill in as a tight end again this year—continued to show off his supple hands and brutal physicality.

Their performance didn't give Bill Belichick much cause for optimism, either. Both were subsequently released on Sunday, according to Field Yates of

Source: Patriots waived TE's Justin Jones & Asa Watson, plus RB Stephen Houston. TE's Ben Hartsock, Steve Maneri & Terrence Miller signed.

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 10, 2014

Let's dig deeper into Jones' failure against Washington.

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Jones is lined up as the "Y" or in-line tight end, normally occupied by Rob Gronkowski. He has a nice, balanced stance, not giving away any clues to the impending play call.

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Jones' job looks to initially get a chip on the defensive end to help disguise the play action and prevent the end from disrupting the action in the backfield. Notice, however, how quickly Jones lost leverage and raised his pad level over that of his opponent.

Fundamentals like pad level would go a long way in correcting some of Jones' deficiencies in the run game, but this is ultimately a passing play. Jones gets enough of the end and then slips by him out into the route while quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo bootlegs out.

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Jones could not be more wide open. Garoppolo doesn't throw a perfect pass here, but Jones should have been able to catch it if he were paying attention to detail. 

After running straight across the field for a few yards, Jones starts to drift as the ball approaches, angling from the 48-yard line to the 50-yard line. With a catch-radius like Jones', he would have had no problem snagging the ball at his knees if he kept his route perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

Drifting backwards, however, made a shoe-string catch out of the question. Like pad level, simple fundamentals such as not drifting on a square route should be second nature at this point for an NFL tight end.

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The aftermath: Jones is left staring at the ball in acres of space, and he isn't thrown another one the rest of the night.

The upshot with Jones is that his issues—both mental and physical—are correctable.

A year off of football in 2013 certainly didn't help his development. Unfortunately, those corrections might take more than a couple of weeks to take hold. Bad habits are hard to break, and Belichick determined that New England didn't have the patience to correct them.

With Ben Hartsock and Steve Maneri—both primarily blockers—and the hybrid Terrence Miller, New England has a new crop of tight ends to try out. None are locks to make the roster, but all look more NFL-ready than Jones and Watson.

Expect Jones and Watson to get shots elsewhere in the NFL. They could be heading to Cortland—home of the New York Jets and collector of former Patriots—as you're reading this.