Tight ends giving Patriots versatile attack

Four months ago, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told me the New England Patriots' offense had been "exposed" last year.

Dilfer's recommendation? Get the tight ends more involved.




Hernandez"If they can incorporate those tight ends soon enough and change their system, they can be highly effective again offensively," Dilfer said in May. "But if they go back and try the shotgun with three-receiver sets -- I think the numbers were up to 70 percent of the time -- I think they're going to struggle."

Despite the readers ripping him as know-nothing for that take, Dilfer's words have been prophetic.

Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have made a major impact. Hernandez has 13 receptions for a team-high 211 yards. Only Wes Welker has more catches. Gronkowski has two touchdown grabs, joining Welker and Randy Moss as the only Patriots with any.

"They're slowly adapting to the trends of the National Football League offensively," Dilfer said in a "Countdown Daily" video. "Last year they tried to be a spread-you-out team, shotgun-only, abandon the run and a dink-and-dunk, spread football team. I think they recognized that they needed to have more of an on-the-line-of-scrimmage presence. By drafting two big tight ends it gives them incredible versatility in their offense."

Dilfer points out tight end involvement allows the Patriots to stay in run formations for most of the game yet still remain potent in the pass game, to operate a ball-control offense later in games and to move Moss around more than before.