The New England Patriots made upgrading their tight ends a priority in the offseason.
They practically wiped their depth chart clean and started over, signing free agent Alge Crumpler and drafting a pair of tight ends: Rob Gronkowski in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth.
The Patriots this week are holding joint practices against the Atlanta Falcons in advance of their preseason game Thursday night in the Georgia Dome.
Who better to talk to about the Patriots' tight ends than Tony Gonzalez, a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer?
"I have watched both tight ends," Gonzalez told reporters Tuesday, "and they are rookies. So they are still learning this game.
"I do see a future for them."
Gronkowski is a more multidimensional tight end, but has a disconcerting injury history that caused him to slip in the draft relative to his talent. Hernandez has made a stronger impression in Patriots camp with his receiving skills but is lacking as a blocker.
"Hernandez, with the receiving part of it, has got that down," Gonzalez said. "He can keep improving on that. If you are going to be a tight end, and you want to be called a tight end, then you better learn how to block. That is what the position is.
"With [Gronkowski], I think he has a pretty good receiving game and he has got the blocking pretty good."
Gronkowski and Hernandez would be wise to soak up as much as they can from Gonzalez this week. Gonzalez's next reception will be his 1,000th. He has been named to 10 Pro Bowls and voted All-Pro five times.
"You have to be a complete tight end," Gonzalez said. "You can't just be a receiving tight end, or just a blocking tight end. You have to do both things at a pretty high level.
"You can do one a little bit better, but something I tell every player coming into the league is that you get out of it what you put into it. It's not about what you do at practice. It's about what you do before practice and after practice. If you are one of those guys who goes straight in after the horn rings to shower and go home then I don’t think you can be ever as good as you could be."