FOXBOROUGH — There was a time, 30 pounds and three years ago, when Steve Maneri was here.
Maneri — one of three tight ends signed by the Patriots Sunday after they released rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson — played on New England’s practice squad in 2010 and went to training camp in 2011.
“There’s a lot of things that changed in three years,” the 26-year-old Maneri said after Monday’s practice.
Like his weight.
“Everybody’s like, ‘You slimmed down!’” said Maneri, who started his career with New England as an offensive lineman. “Everybody’s saying, ‘Damn, you lost a lot of weight!’ Some guys didn’t even recognize me, because it was 30 pounds ago.”
Back then he was 300-plus pounds; today he’s a mere 6 feet 7 inches and 280 pounds.
And, of course, there’s more to transitioning from a bulldozer on the line to a more agile pass catcher who runs routes.
“It’s a whole ’nother concept of the game — you’ve got to learn the pass game,” said Maneri, who played four games last season with the Bears and has six catches for 52 yards in his three-year career as tight end. “As a lineman you’re blocking all the time, and as a tight end you have to learn a whole ’nother half of the game.
“Luckily for me I’ve got a great teacher, coach [Brian] Daboll,” Maneri added. “We’ve been at it for hours and hours and hours,” which is telling, because Maneri’s first day of camp was Sunday.
Maneri, then, will appreciate one of the other signings, Ben Hartsock, who’s made a living by performing the less glorious half of a tight end’s task.
“I’ve carved out a career by doing something no one else wants to do. The blocking tight end role is one that — there aren’t many kids graduating high school looking to be a backup blocking tight end,” said the 34-year-old Hartsock, who has bounced around six teams in his 10-year career. “So for that reason I’ve carved out a decade of it. It’s a role that I relish, really. And it’s exciting to be a part of this team, because this team is the quintessential role-player team.”
It wasn’t always this way, Hartsock said. At Ohio State, where he had 57 catches for 515 yards and five touchdowns, he was featured more prominently in the offense.
“But as soon as I came into the league, it became very clear that I didn’t necessarily have the skill set that the Dallas Clarks and the Tony Gonzalezes had,” said Hartsock, who has caught 31 passes for 312 yards and one touchdown in his decade in the NFL.
“And so I wanted to stick around. I always was a solid blocker, but it’s something that I’ve continued to craft.’’
Hartsock, 6-4 and 265 pounds, said his only workout of the spring and summer was with the Patriots, and he was “hoping and anticipating a phone call” to come to training camp. It came, finally.
“You’ve got to knock a little rust off,” he said. “I haven’t been with the team all spring and summer, so I’m playing a little bit of catch-up. Yesterday was my first practice since the season last year.
“It’s like a bike: You just jump back on.”
The third tight end signed, 22-year-old rookie Terrence Miller, is more of a pass-catching threat, coach Bill Belichick said.
“Steve and Ben both have a lot of experience in the blocking part of the game, similar to [Matthew] Mulligan from last year,” Belichick said before practice. “And Terrence probably has a little more experience in the passing part of it in college.
Though the 6-4, 234-pound Miller won’t advertise that.
“I would describe myself as however the coaches want me to be,” Miller said, laughing. “I would say that’d be my strong suit — is catching passes and running routes — but I see myself as whatever the coaches need me to be.”
Miller, who was released by the Jets June 19, went to Arizona, the same college as Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski left in 2008; Miller arrived in 2009.
“I pretty much leave him alone,” said Miller, who had 95 receptions for 1,117 yards and three touchdowns as a Wildcat. “I watch him, though. He might not know that I watch him, but I don’t really bother him too much.
“We’re kind of different generations. He was on his way out when I was on my way in. We didn’t really hang out too much.”
The new trio — now part of the Gronkowski-Michael Hoomanawanui-D.J. Williams tight end corps — is diverse but fused by circumstance.
“We’re doing pretty well, all three of us,” Maneri said. “We’re all new, so we’re all sharing the experience together.”