Rob Gronkowski's Absence from Patriots Practices Is Martellus Bennett's Gain

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IJune 13, 2016

New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (83) catches a pass during an NFL football practice Wednesday, June 8, 2016 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Tight end Rob Gronkowski was the most prominent player missing from the New England Patriots' mandatory minicamp from June 7-9.

One player to benefit was Martellus Bennett, the No. 2 tight end on the depth chart. With his addition to the lineup, there's been wide speculation that the Patriots could return to a two-tight end offense. It would certainly make sense; Bennett and Gronkowski are two of the five best offensive skill position players on the team, without question.

The only potential problem would be if Bennett isn't ready to shoulder a heavy workload in his first year in the offense. Thus, getting him the early reps should be helpful.

Bennett has had a strong spring so far, and on Wednesday in the Patriots' second practice of minicamp, he made five catches. He dropped just one pass during team drills the entire week, and it was on the last day of practice. He and quarterback Tom Brady worked together on a goal-line drill that has involved Gronkowski in the past.

Those one-on-one sessions can be a huge help to chemistry between the quarterback and tight end. 

Kevin Duffy @KevinRDuffy

Tom Brady getting in some work with Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor https://t.co/y1BDx3AdNk

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"It's just like the student-to-teacher ratio," Bennett said. "When it's lower, you have a better chance of learning the material."

Make no mistake, there's a lot of material to learn. Bennett is taking an active approach in that respect as well. But if there is a strong rapport between Bennett and Brady, the rest should take care of itself.

"I'm always asking him questions," Bennett said. "I want to know what he wants, because the best place to be is where the quarterback wants you to be. So I'm constantly peppering him with questions."

Mark Daniels @MarkDanielsPJ

Here's Tom Brady completing a deep pass to Martellus Bennett https://t.co/ZHfHvIlgWY

The Patriots offense can be demanding of its pass-catchers, but Bennett's job will be even bigger than that. He will have to learn the ins and outs of the Patriots' blocking schemes as well. Of course, with no pads during minicamp, now is not the time to get acclimated as a blocker.

Fortunately, this was a great opportunity to get acclimated with the passing game. And there don't appear to be any real repercussions of Gronkowski's absence. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Gronkowski's absence was "precautionary," so there's no reason to worry about Gronkowski's health for 2016.

Catches per game, Patriots TEs
PlayerAaron HernandezRob Gronkowski
Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

He is familiar enough with the offense that he can afford to miss some time, especially if it means he can go full-bore in training camp. 

Regardless of why the Patriots kept Gronkowski off the field, it ultimately was not the worst thing that could have happened. 

If the recent past is any indication, Bennett could still match the numbers he put up in 2013 and 2014, when he had 65 and 90 catches, respectively. He was the No. 1 tight end for the Chicago Bears those years, but when one considers the numbers that Aaron Hernandez posted alongside Gronkowski from 2010-2012, it's not out of the question that Bennett could maintain his productivity.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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