Training Camp Preview: Tight Ends

A closer look at the roster as training camp arrives. In this part of the series we look at tight ends.

Starters -- Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez.
Backups -- Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Tyler Urban.

Entering their third year together, Gronkowski and Hernandez form arguably the best tight-end duo in football.

Gronkowski is the true, traditional tight end coming off the greatest statistical season in the history of the NFL at the position. Though rehab from ankle surgery has limited his offseason a bit, he's expected to be at full health for the regular season. His numbers may come down a bit from his 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago as defenses focus more on Brady's huge target, but Gronkowski will remain a key figure of the passing attack.

Hernandez is really almost a slot receiver for the Patriots and could be even better this fall after catching 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing two-plus games in 2011. As defenses focus on Gronkowski and some of the other options in the passing attack like Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, Hernandez could find even more space to work. If he can stay healthy and cut down on his drops, he could put up huge numbers this fall.

Ballard was claimed, somewhat controversially, off waivers from the Giants. He's recovering from ACL and microfracture surgery, after suffering the knee injury against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He'll miss all of 2012 on physically unable to perform, but will be in the mix a year from now.

[Editor's Note: This was written prior to the addition of TE Visanthe Shiancoe]

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