Patriots offense will feature something we haven’t seen in almost 10 years

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Ever since Aaron Hernandez departed the Patriots before the 2013 season, the organization has been trying to replicate (or come close to) what he and Rob Gronkowski were able to do at the tight end position the previous three seasons.

Their best came in 2011 when the pair combined for 169 receptions for 2,237 yards and 18 touchdowns.

But after Hernandez left, a number of players were brought in to try and replicate what he was able to do with Gronkowski — Scott Chandler, Michael Hoomanawanui, Martellus Bennett, Dwayne Allen, the list goes on. No one was able to come close.

And then once Gronkowski retired following the 2018 season, it’s been even worse the last two years. New England has received the least production from the position in the entire league.

Thanks to this past offseason, that will change this year.

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New England spent just under $90 million on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, who will give the Patriots, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the best players the position has had in almost 10 years. McDaniels will finally be able to utilize two tight end sets to create matchup issues for the opposing defense.

(It’s worth noting McDaniels wasn’t even with the Patriots in 2011 as he returned to the team in 2012. He only had one year with both Gronkowski and Hernandez.)

Sunday will be the first time Smith and Henry will be on the field together, as they missed time this summer with injuries. McDaniels isn’t worried, though.

“I feel very confident in both players’ aptitude and understanding of our system and our operation and what we do offensively and what their roles are in it,” he said Monday. “That’s because they are very diligent about the work they put in. They prepare very well. So, I am very confident in that. … I have no doubts about those two players in terms of their ability to go out there and perform. They both will be ready to go and I know they are excited and happy to be getting into a regular-season routine now.”

The pair is pretty similar to what Gronkowski and Hernandez were as Smith is very athletic and will line up all over the field, while Henry is more of a typical tight end, like Gronkowski was and still is.

There’s no doubt these two will play major roles in the offense, especially with a rookie under center in Mac Jones. Throwing to tight ends is typically a lot less stressful than to wide receivers. Smith and Henry should be nice safety blankets for Jones as he navigates his first few NFL starts.

Reaching the 2011 level of production from the position seems virtually impossible, but if the pair can get even semi-close to that, the Patriots offense should be in good shape.

McDaniels is one of the most creative offensive coordinators in the league and for the first time, we’ll really be able to see what he can do with a top-tier tight end duo.