Ben Hartsock, seen here lifting up former teammate Greg Olsen, hasn’t caught a lot of passes but has helped clear the way for a lot of offensive success over the course of his career. (AP)
FOXBORO — Even though he’s only been around the Patriots for roughly 36 hours, Ben Hartsock appears to have some sort of idea what he’s gotten himself in to.
The veteran tight end, who signed with New England over the weekend, talked about the Patriots offense Monday afternoon using the same sort of language as someone who has watching the New England offense operate extensively over the last decade or so.
‘They’re a team that’s very much game-plan specific,’ the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hartsock said when asked for his thoughts on how the Patriots utilize tight ends. ‘Certain weeks, you’ll see them line up wings on wings on wings, with tight ends, jumbo linemen and a lot of different things. They can also get small at the same time. They’re a team that can get tremendously versatile.’
The Patriots tight end situation is a fluid one right now. New England swept out two of their younger tight ends over the weekend when it released Justin Jones and Asa Watson. In their place, the Patriots added Hartsock, Terrence Miller and Steve Maneri.
‘Steve and Ben both have a lot of experience in the blocking part of the game, similar to [Matthew] Mulligan from last year,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘And Terrence probably has a little more experience in the passing part of it in college, so we’ll see how it goes.’
While all of them bring unique skill sets to the table, it’s Hartsock who could have the most staying power. The Ohio State product, who had a workout this past spring with the Patriots, has cobbled together an impressive resume, which including eight postseason games over the course of his career.
At this point, it’s just a matter of knocking the rust off.
‘I haven’t been with a team all spring and summer, so I’m playing a little bit of catch-up,’ he said. ‘[Sunday] was my first practice since the season last year, [just] getting the rust off.
‘Being my 11th year in the league, it’s like a bike. You just jump back on.’
And if he sticks — and ends up catching a pass from quarterback Tom Brady — he could be the sixth player in NFL history to have caught a pass from Brady and Peyton Manning: Wes Welker, Austin Collie, Torrance Small, Jermaine Wiggins and Dan Klecko are the other five.
However, receptions are probably not his first priority. The 34-year-old is an 11-year veteran who is also more of a blocker — he has just 31 catches over the course of his 11-year career, which has seen him suit up for the Colts (2004-06), Titans (2006-07), Falcons (2008), Jets (2009-10) and Panthers (2011-13).
‘I’ve carved out a career by doing something no one else wants to do,’ he said with a smile when asked about his blocking skills. ‘The blocking tight end role is one ‘¦ there aren’t many high school kids coming out and graduating high school looking to be a backup, blocking tight end. For that reason, I’ve carved out a decade of that. It’s a role that I relish, really.
‘In college, I had a little more opportunity to catch the football and be a little but more of the focal point of the offense. But as soon as I came into the league, it became very clear that I didn’t really have the skill set that the Dallas Clark‘s and the Tony Gonzalez‘s had. I wanted to stick around. I was always a solid blocker, but it’s something I’ve continued to craft, and it’s something that’s blessed me over the years.’
Hartsock has had a chance to connect with the rest of the tight ends, including Rob Gronkowski.
‘It’s a group that’s diverse, but nonetheless, they’re focused,’ he said. ‘Gronkowski, I think the legend precedes himself, and so far, he’s lived up to that. Big smile on his face every day.
‘But then, there are other guys like [Michael Hoomanwanui] and D.J. [Williams] and those guys ‘¦ right now, they’re just trying to get better so they can get back on the field.’