New England Patriots: Top Position Battles on Offense Heading into Training Camp

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Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (47) celebrates after the game against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have already trimmed down their tight end position before training camp even begins. Veteran Fred Davis was cut shortly after being signed after being given a shot during OTAs and minicamp. Davis was a longshot who was out of the league last year. The surprise move was the release of tight end Timothy Wright who was acquired for Logan Mankins last year and was a red zone threat with 6 of his 26 receptions resulting in touchdowns.

While the Patriots have projects A.J. Derby–a former college quarterback taken in the sixth round–and Jake Bequette–a former defensive end drafted in 2012–who are probably competing for a bench role or practice squad spot, the Patriots brought back blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and imported former Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler to compete for the second tight end role behind All Pro Rob Gronkowski.

Nov 30, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler (84) carries the ball as Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) tackles during the first half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Scott Chandler has long been a thorn in the side of the Patriots while in Buffalo as he has had 28 catches in eight career games versus the Patriots with four touchdowns. He was pounced upon by the Patriots in free agency after being cut by the Bills in order to make room for Charles Clay. Despite Chandler having been productive in Buffalo, the Bills paid a premium of five years and $38 million with $24.4 million guaranteed.

By making Clay the fourth highest paid tight end in football, the Bills traded off a dependable veteran who had 47 receptions for 497 yards and 3 touchdowns last year for a younger player who had just 58 receptions for 605 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2014. While the Patriots will have Gronkowski and Chandler at a discount rate, the Bills are going to be paying Clay a salary commensurate with Gronkowski while getting Chandler-level production.

Scott Chandler is not going to be a “move” tight end in the offense like Tim Wright or Aaron Hernandez were in New England. Chandler (and Hoomanawanui) are end-of-the-line big bodies. At six-foot-seven and 270 pounds Chandler is similar in size to Gronkowski and is a true backup to him. He does not split out and lines up like a traditional tight end right on the edge of the line and creates a matchup problem for opposing linebackers and safeties. The addition of Chandler could mean more flexibility and snaps split out wide for Gronkowski in two-tight end sets.

Oct 12, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (47) against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. New England beats Buffalo 37 to 22. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Hoomanawanui returns in 2015 to help serve in his usual role as a blocking compliment for Gronkowski. Hoomanawanui is not much of a receiving threat (only nine receptions for 97 yards throughout the entire regular season and playoffs last season), but his blocking skills are what keep him on the team.

Hoomanawanui can catch the ball when called upon, but the “Hoo-Man” excels in pass blocking on the end of the line helping out the tackles. Hoomanawanui will never have a big impact in the passing game as a receiver, but his skills as both a run blocker and pass protector should allow him to keep his roster spot. Hoomanawanui will have a tough battle to get back his regular snaps from Chandler this season.

Next: Position Battle #3: Left Guard