ATLANTA -- In Thursday night’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez continued to display versatility and playmaking ability. The rookie led both teams with four receptions for 46 yards, including an impressive toe-tapping 4-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Playing from the start of the game well into the fourth quarter, Hernandez took part in 42 of the team’s 61 offensive plays (not including two penalties which weren't official plays). Coming off a first preseason game in which he topped the unit with 85 percent participation, Hernandez was again a major factor in the Patriots’ offense.
“It’s starting to come naturally,” Hernandez said afterward. “I still have to think here and there, but all I do is go out there and give it my all.”
What is impressive about Hernandez is the variety of roles he's playing.
Of his 42 snaps, Hernandez lined up in a traditional tight end spot -- a three-point stance outside of the tackle -- for only 16 plays in the game. Moreover, only 12 more plays came at the “wing,” standing at the end of the offensive formation.
Hernandez displayed his true versatility when he moved outside to a traditional wide receiver spot for 12 snaps against the Falcons, or nearly a third of his total plays. And in a step beyond what was seen in the first preseason game, Hernandez not only lined up in the slot, but in a full split end position, as well.
Adding one snap at fullback in the Patriots’ backfield, Hernandez could be found at nearly every offensive receiving position at some point in Thursday’s game. This is a remarkable feat for a 20-year-old NFL newcomer, whose fellow rookies are just trying to get down the nuances of a single position.