Patriots TE Jake Ballard must stay ready

It hasn't taken long for tight end Jake Ballard to shed his Big Blue colors of the New York Giants and join the New England Patriots. The teams have faced off in two recent Super Bowls and developed a healthy rivalry. Now Ballard has been on both sides.

Ballard's last game with New York was against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012. He suffered a significant knee injury in that game. In a sign of respect, New England head coach Bill Belichick claimed Ballard off waivers despite knowing Ballard would not play the next season. The Giants weren’t happy about it, but New England had no issues stashing Ballard on their roster for a year instead while he rehabbed.

Ballard is ready to play again in 2013 and met with the Boston media for the first time Thursday. Ballard says there is no question where his allegiance stands.

"I'm absolutely a Patriot through and through," Ballard said, according to ESPNBoston.com. "I enjoy being here, I enjoy being around the coaches, and everybody is great."

New England's waiver claim may come in handy one year later. Ballard missed all of last year but currently is the healthiest pass-catching tight end on the roster. According to NFL.com's Albert Breer, tight end Rob Gronkowski will have back surgery in June and will miss at least part of training camp. Meanwhile, Aaron Hernandez is out until at least until training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Ballard would be the starting tight end for the Patriots if the season started today.

Gronkowski and Hernandez were in and out of the lineup all last season because of injuries. Ballard provides a good third option for the next time one of those two goes down.

If history is any indication, Ballard must stay ready. Gronkowski and Hernandez both have lengthy injury histories and numerous surgeries. Therefore, there's a strong chance Ballard's number will be called this season.