FOXBOROUGH — Defenses preparing to stop Rob Gronkowski for the past several years have mostly failed.
And now their jobs are harder. New England’s opponents will have not one oversized, pass-catching tight end to prepare for, but two: the 6-foot-6-inch Gronkowski and 6-7 Scott Chandler, the former Bill who signed in March.
The towering tight ends have been on the field together throughout organized team activity practices in recent weeks, and have been working with Tom Brady on red zone routes on a side field when much of the rest of the team is doing special teams work.
Knowing the impact Gronkowski makes in the red zone, it’s easy to think that having both on the field will boost the offense’s conversion rate.
Not that anyone on the Patriots is ready to gush about the possibilities.
“Right now we’re just trying to get out here in May and June and put pieces in different spots,” tight ends coach Brian Daboll said Thursday. “They’re responsible to know all five eligible positions whenever we want to get them lined up, so whether it’s Scott or Rob or Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui] or Freddy [Davis], they have to be dependable and smart and have enough flexibility to line up where we need them to.”
Chandler, 29, has been well-received by his new team.
“Hard worker, smart, comes to meetings ready to work, has some veteran experience, good teammate. He’s good to work with, good guy in meeting rooms, works hard on the field, does everything you ask him to,” Daboll said.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels echoed Daboll’s thoughts.
“He came here from a system that wasn’t very much the same as ours, so he’s had to put in a lot of work and a lot of time to study and get on the same page with what we’re doing, and he has,” McDaniels said. “He’s a smart guy, he’s in great condition, he’s taken a lot of reps, he’s really getting on the same page with the quarterback and the other tight ends and skill players.”
In his understated way, Chandler said he’s still in learning mode, from getting to know his teammates and finding his role.
“I think right now we’re just focused on finding out how I can help this team, and trying to work hard every day and do what I can and just focus on trying to learn as much as I can day in and day out and get as good as I can get,” he said.
The combination of Chandler’s veteran presence and growing impact as well as his contract — he signed a two-year, $5.3 million deal that included a $2 million signing bonus and $1.2 million base salary for this year — plus the versatility of Hoomanawanui and the continued work Jake Bequette is getting at tight end as he tries to convert from defensive end, all spelled trouble for Tim Wright.
Wright, whom the Patriots acquired last year from the Buccaneers in the Logan Mankins trade, was released Thursday.
Though he had 26 catches and six touchdowns last season, Wright’s production dropped off markedly after his five-catch, two-touchdown performance against the Lions Nov. 23.
He had just three receptions and no touchdowns the rest of the season, barely seeing the field on offense during the postseason.
Bequette, a third-round pick out of Arkansas in 2012, has not been able to crack the roster as a defensive end, spending all of last year on the practice squad after playing just eight games over his first two seasons. But he is clearly well-liked by Bill Belichick and the coaching staff given that he has the opportunity at tight end.
“It’s obviously a bit of a transition but I feel like I’m picking up on the terminology and the finer points of the position,” Bequette said. “But I’ve got a long way to go.”
His time at tight end began last year, when Bequette would line up at the position with the scout team, and Bequette also did some goal-line work with the offense his rookie season.
This offseason, he’s been committed to it full time — during organized team activity practices media have watched, he has been with the offense the entire time, wearing a gray top like the rest of the offensive players wear, not the navy blue of the defense.
He’s enjoying the experience.
“It’s different; it’s a challenge,” he said. “I feel good out there.”
Said Daboll, “He’s a guy that’s learning how to play the position, another hard-working guy, smart, does anything the team needs him to do. He’s been a fun guy to coach and I think that he’s trying to learn every day to learn the position.”
Bequette was asked if he felt as though he has to make it as a tight end to keep a roster spot, but feels that’s a question “for the future.”
“Right now I’m taking it one day at a time; that’s the truth,” he said. “My focus is on here and now, continuing to improve my fundamentals and just trying to build one step at a time.”
As for his hands, Bequette quickly turned around the question. “What do you think?” he shot back.
Well, it’s reasoned, Belichick has said defensive players become defensive players when it’s determined they can’t catch.
“Hopefully I can change that perception,” Bequette said.