Sunday, August 10, 2014

Patriots dump rookie free agents Jones, Watson and Houston, sign veteran tight ends

The New England Patriots moved closer to realizing their new-look offensive scheme on Sunday by releasing three undrafted rookie free agents and replacing them with veteran heft in advance of unveiling their power-based Pro Set offense.

The Patriots released tight ends Justin Jones and Asa Watson, both longshots to make the final 53 man roster, and replaced them on the camp roster with veteran blocking tight ends Ben Hartsock, formerly of the Carolina Panthers as well as well-traveled veteran Steve Maneri and rookie free agent Terrence Miller.
Maneri with the Patriots as a tackle in 2010

The team also waived undrafted rookie free agent Stephen Houston, who seemed on track to battle for the big back role in Foxborough - but put the ball on the ground in New England's loss to the Redskins on Thursday night and was pulled from the game.

Jones muffed his only target in that game, as he couldn't corral a seam pass from rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, while Watson didn't figure at all in 26 snaps.

Since being the Indianapolis Colts' 3rd round draft pick in 2004, Hartsock has caught 31 balls for 312 yards and one touchdown in playing for four different teams.  At 6' 4" and 265 pounds, the Ohio State product has value as blocking tight, though the Patriots may decide to use him as an H-back, much the same as they are trying to do with fullback James Develin.

The 6' 7", 280 pound Maneri is back for a second stint with New England - this time as an end-line tight end after stints with Kansas City, Chicago and Tampa since being signed as an undrafted free agent by Houston as an offensive tackle in 2010.  Maneri has played in 23 games in his four year career, catching six balls for 52 yards between the Chiefs and the Buccaneers and comes to New England as a capable and nasty blocker.

Miller was first signed by the New York Jets to compete with Zach Sudfeld for their third tight end spot but was released shortly after signing.  The 6' 4", 235 pounder out of Arizona had decent production in the Wildcats' system as a hybrid wide receiver-tight end, and proved to be a seam-stretcher in his senior year, catching 40 balls for 467 yards and one score.

A tremendous athlete, Miller has some straight-line speed and size to compete as a "move" tight end and is a decent blocker as well.

These moves reflect the back-to-the-basics approach at the tight end position and a shift in philosophy to more of a power-based attack after the team toyed with the tight end-centric gimmick offense for the past few seasons - but that notion was put on the back burner as All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski has dealt with numerous injuries and missed good chunks of playing time as a result...

...and because of the indiscretions on the part of former tight end Aaron Hernandez, both instances essentially crippling the offense last season as quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick were forced to improvise an attack that featured mostly new receivers, including three rookies - yet still managed to finish in the top ten offenses in the league.

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