AFC East: Michael Hoomanawanui

There's another potential suitor for tight end Jermichael Finley, but it's with the same caveat as there is with the Green Bay Packers.

Bush
Finley
Everything hinges on Finley's surgically repaired neck.

The free-agent tight end visited the New England Patriots last Friday, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan. The trip to Foxborough came less than a week after Finley was in Green Bay to check in with the Packers' team doctors.

Finley has reportedly been cleared by the doctor who performed his neck fusion surgery, Dr. Joseph Maroon. But the Packers' doctors did not put Finley through the full battery of tests that would need to be done in order to clear him to return to the team.

Last week, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick, one of Finley's closest former teammates, said he believes Finley will play in the NFL again but was not sure whether it would be in Green Bay.

Finley bruised his spinal cord -- an injury that left him briefly without movement and feeling -- after taking a hit in the Oct. 20 game against the Cleveland Browns. He has not played since. Less than a month later, he had his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae fused together.

He was in the final season of a two-year, $14 million contract when he was injured. As an unrestricted free agent, he is allowed to visit and be examined by any team.

The Patriots' interest in Finley makes sense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off ACL reconstruction. The other tight ends on their roster are former Packers draft pick D.J. Williams, Michael Hoomanawanui and rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson.

Hoomanawanui return makes sense

March, 10, 2014
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Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui filled his role well for the Patriots in 2013, so it is no surprise the Patriots had interest in bringing him back in 2014.

ESPN Insider Field Yates confirmed earlier reports from Yahoo! Sports and Fox Sports that Hoomanawanui is re-signing with the Patriots for two seasons.

Hoomanawanui played 57.6 percent of the offensive snaps in 2013, most among New England tight ends, as he emerged as the top replacement for Rob Gronkowski. With Gronkowski currently recovering from a torn ACL, and lingering questions over his durability after a string of injuries, Hoomanawanui is a dependable, team-first, lower-budget layer of insurance.

Hoomanawanui has said it himself -- he’s no Gronkowski. Few are.

While not as dynamic in the passing game in terms of creating separation and pure speed, Hoomanwanui does have solid hands and can make the tough catch (12 receptions in 2013). His greatest contributions last year, when he won a training camp competition against Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells, came as a blocker.

The Patriots now have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams under contract at the tight end position. The team likely isn’t done addressing the position.

Lining up Patriots 2014 free agents

February, 27, 2014
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With various top free agent lists starting to surface, let's narrow things down to the Patriots with a snapshot look at the team's free agents:

1. CB Aqib Talib -- Difference-maker when healthy and added a different dynamic to the cornerbacks room since November of 2012. A top priority for the team.

2. WR Julian Edelman -- Deserves everything coming to him after a terrific 2013 season. Patriots would obviously like him back, but if another team ups the bidding, he's probably gone.

3. RB LeGarrette Blount -- Mutual interest in his return. A player who seemingly has more value to the Patriots than most others, which makes us think it's a greater likelihood he's back.

4. LB Brandon Spikes -- The way 2013 ended makes it unlikely he returns.

5. C Ryan Wendell -- A scrappy heady performer, Wendell maximizes his talents. I don't evision the Patriots extending their budget to ensure his return, but if a market doesn't develop for him, he'd surely be welcome back in a situation where there might be top competition for the No. 1 job.

6. TE Michael Hoomanawanui-- Played his role well in 2013. Would think he's back unless another team unexpectedly ups the ante.

7. LB Dane Fletcher -- One of the Patriots' best special teams players. Would think there is a competitive bid to retain him.

8. DE Andre Carter -- They don't get much better from a locker-room perspective, but we'd be surprised if the team makes his return a priority at this point.

9. TE Matthew Mulligan -- More of a blocking presence, he filled his role well in 2013. Although the Patriots will probably look to add to the position, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mulligan competes for a roster spot again.

10. WR Austin Collie -- Veteran was dependable and should warrant serious consideration to re-sign.

11-. OT Will Svitek -- Smart, versatile veteran probably will see his spot go to a youngster, unless Sebastian Vollmer's recovery doesn't look promising.
DENVER -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Denver Broncos 3-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Pats' O starts slow. The Patriots' offense needed just one play to find the end zone last Saturday, but the start wasn't quite the same today, as the offense went three and out on its first drive and punted on each of the first two drives. Some notable personnel factors: Aaron Dobson is playing some in two-receiver sets, LeGarrette Blount once again is handling lead back duties and both Matthew Slater and Austin Collie have been targeted on third-down plays.

2. Perfect conditions. The weather is idyllic in Denver today, with a temperature of 61 degrees at kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky, and there's minimal wind. A strong glare has made things difficult on returners fielding punts deep.

3. Broncos open the scoring. The Broncos got on the board first with a field goal late in the first quarter. The drive was helped by a long completion from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on a third and 10 play. The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos from the 10-yard line, however, forcing the field goal from Matt Prater.

4. Patriots' offense driving. The Patriots' offense generated a little bit of buzz at the end of the quarter, crossing into Denver territory. The second quarter will open with the Patriots facing a fourth down from Denver's 39.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (offensive pass interference).

Hoomanawanui set to cash in on incentive

December, 25, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots restructured the contract of Michael Hoomanawanui this offseason, and his one-year deal includes a base salary of $630,000.

But the fourth-year tight end also has the opportunity to earn up to $370,000 more if he reaches 45 percent of the offensive snaps played this season.

With Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve, Hoomanawanui has once again risen up the depth chart, leading the tight ends in snaps thus far this season.

Through 16 games for the team, there have been 1,128 offensive snaps. Hoomanawanui has played in 13 of those games, totaling 627 offensive snaps thus far, 55.5 percent.

He’s a safe bet to once again play a prominent role in Week 17 (he’s played 137 of the 150 snaps over the past two games since Gronk’s injury, 91.3 percent), which would allow him to earn the playing-time incentives and bring his total compensation up to $1 million for 2013.

In fact, even if Hoomanawanui did not play in Week 17 (there’s no reason to believe he won’t), the Patriots would need to run 266 plays for him to fall underneath the 45 percent barrier for the season. That’s an otherworldly total, meaning Hoomanawanui is set to cash in.

Given his contributions this season -- which extend beyond the box score -- that’s money well-earned.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

December, 15, 2013
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MIAMI -- At an initial glance, a look at which players were "up" in the Patriots' game against the Dolphins and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:

Up

Julian Edelman: On the field where he broke his foot last year, receiver delivers with another big game.

Michael Hoomanawanui: Tight end's 13-yard, one-handed touchdown grab late in the second quarter is one for the highlight reel.

Aqib Talib: Cornerback who often aligns on the inside part of the field, likely with the idea of taking away the Dolphins' middle-of-the-field passing game, isn't heard from often.

Down

Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver can't come up with two catches against tight coverage, one of which came in the end zone.

Marquice Cole/Steve Gregory: Defensive backs are in coverage on Mike Wallace's 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown at the end of the second quarter.

Dane Fletcher: Linebacker is flagged for a critical pass-interference penalty on third down late in the third quarter.

Stephen Gostkowski: After the Patriots go ahead 20-17, sends his kickoff out of bounds, giving the Dolphins the ball at the 40.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 18, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

What it means: Great game as Cam Newton outdueled Tom Brady. Brady brought his "A" game but this was Newton's night. He had some dazzling runs against a defense that couldn't make the stop at the critical time. The Patriots fall to 7-3, and they will look back at some lost opportunities as this game was there for the taking. This was a limited-possession game -- the Patriots had just seven offensive drives -- which magnified mistakes on both sides. The Patriots had more of them early and trailed 10-3 at the half before the teams combined to play an exciting second half. A third-and-1 incomplete pass through the back of the end zone forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal to go up 20-17, which set up the Panthers' game-winning touchdown drive. The Patriots fought to the finish, but their final drive fell short with the clock also working against them. Should a penalty have been called on the final play? Fair question.

Aqib Talib vs. Steve Smith: This was the matchup within the matchup and the win goes to Smith, the Panthers' veteran receiver. The two were jawing from the get-go and had to be separated several times after plays. Talib appeared to lose his cool early. Smith beat Talib for a 42-yard gain down the left side in the first quarter, which was a tone-setter of sorts for a one-on-one battle that was especially fun to watch. Talib ultimately left the game in the fourth quarter with a hip injury and didn't return.

Stock watch: Patriots running back Stevan Ridley's ball-security issues resurfaced. He fumbled on the team's second drive and was kept on the sideline for 18 snaps before the coaches went back to him. Ridley runs hard, but if he continues to struggle holding on to the ball, it will likely lead to a drop in his playing time.

Injuries to monitor: Patriots No. 2 tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. In his absence, five-year veteran Matthew Mulligan bumped up the depth chart and fullback James Develin was utilized a bit more. Also, as noted above, Talib left with a hip injury in the fourth quarter.

Leg whip by Cannon draws scrutiny: Patriots tight tackle Marcus Cannon's leg whip on Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, which knocked Johnson out of the game with a knee injury, wasn't penalized. But Cannon will likely hear from the NFL in terms of a fine.

Turnover streak snapped: The Patriots had forced a turnover in 36 straight games entering the night, which was the longest active streak in the NFL, but that came to an end.

What's next: The Patriots return home to host the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. Another Brady versus Peyton Manning matchup will be a top storyline, along with receiver Wes Welker's return to town. Welker sustained a concussion in the Broncos' win over the Chiefs on Sunday and his status will be monitored closely.

Patriots release TE Zach Sudfeld

October, 3, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots announced the release of rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld on Thursday, which could be an indication Rob Gronkowski is set to return.

Sudfeld
Sudfeld, an undrafted free agent out of Nevada who had a surprise emergence in training camp, didn't carry the momentum he had generated in the preseason into the regular season. He was used sparingly in Sunday night's 30-23 win against the Atlanta Falcons, playing eight snaps, and couldn't corral an onside kick that was recovered by the Falcons late in the fourth quarter.

If he clears waivers, he will likely return on the team's practice squad.

At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld is more of a receiver than a pure tight end. The first indication that he might be on shaky ground came when the Patriots started using four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui in the role eyed for Sudfeld -- the "move" tight end in the three-receiver package. Sudfeld played 17 snaps in the season-opener, missed the team's Sept. 12 win against the Jets with a hamstring, and then played 19 snaps against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22 before he was hardly on the field Sept. 29 versus the Falcons. He didn't record a catch this season.

The Patriots currently have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan as tight ends on the roster.

Positional groupings: Pats favor 3rd WR

September, 27, 2013
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One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings utilized by the New England Patriots' offense, as they reveal player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.

Here is the big takeaway through three games: The usage of multiple-tight-end packages is down considerably compared to the past two seasons. Here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 232 offensive snaps (including penalties, not kneel-downs):

3 or more WRs: 142 of 232
2 backs: 61 of 232
2 or more TEs: 51 of 232

There is a 22-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.

Four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui is playing most of the tight-end snaps.

When the Patriots added a second tight end last Sunday, it was either rookie Zach Sudfeld or veteran Matthew Mulligan. Sudfeld is more of a receiver-type, while Mulligan is more of a pure blocker. Because each of them trends clearly in one direction, it makes the Patriots a bit more predictable when they are in the game in multiple-tight-end packages.

So with a heavy focus on the passing game the first three weeks, it has essentially come down to a third receiver (most recently Aaron Dobson) being deemed more valuable than Sudfeld.

When Rob Gronkowski returns, it makes sense to think we could see an increase in multiple-tight-end groupings.

Picked-up pieces from 2nd-half review

September, 23, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from reviewing the second half of the Patriots’ 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

1. The half opened with kicker Stephen Gostkowski booming a touchback. He later added two more. So he now has 14 touchbacks on 15 kickoffs this season, putting him close to the league leaders (he entered Week 2 tied for third). That reflects how Gostkowski’s powerful leg is a weapon for the Patriots, although it’s always easier for that to be the case earlier in the season.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hoomanawanui
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsTight end Michael Hoomanawanui gave the Patriots a spark in the second half on Sunday.
2. On Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson leaving the game with a rib injury, it looks like it might have happened on his final reception (12 yards, 14:27 remaining in the second quarter) when linebacker Brandon Spikes tackled him to the ground from behind and Jackson might have landed on the football. Jackson played one snap after that.

3. Julian Edelman’s left-sideline-to-right-sideline 16-yard punt return with 8:06 remaining in the third quarter highlighted how a good returner often has to make at least one opponent miss to get a return started. Edelman did that. We actually counted four defenders that Edelman made miss on the return which set the Patriots up at their own 36-yard line and ultimately set up a 46-yard field goal. If not for Edelman’s return, the Patriots probably don’t get three points there because it wasn’t overly efficient offense on the drive.

4. The tight end hasn’t been a big part of the Patriots’ attack through the first three weeks of the season, but Michael Hoomanawanui’s second and third catches of 2013 came on the same third-quarter drive, which culminated in a 46-yard field goal. On the 15-yarder, Hoomanawanui found a soft spot in the Buccaneers’ zone coverage over the middle. On the 16-yard catch-and-run, he made the first tackler (safety Mark Barron) miss on what was an underrated “effort” play on third-and-19. The 16-yard catch-and-run is an example of what the Patriots probably like most about Hoomanawanui -- he is obviously limited when compared to someone like Rob Gronkowski, but he maxes out with what he has and is consistent and dependable.

5. Some have asked about defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’s play in recent weeks, as his position usually requires a closer look to get a better feel for what is happening in the trenches. Last week, he was surprisingly single blocked at times by Jets guard Vladimir Ducasse. Against the Buccaneers, he seemed to be more disruptive. For example, it was Wilfork who drew the holding penalty on center Jeremy Zuttah at the start of the fourth quarter, which turned out to be a drive stopper after Tampa Bay had generated some positive momentum on the march. We’ve seen Wilfork dominate games inside, and while that wasn’t the case on Sunday, he was disruptive at times inside.

6. Leading 23-3 with 7:38 remaining, and getting the ball on their own 29-yard line, the Patriots turned to their “four-minute offense” which, if effective, bleeds the clock to zero. The Patriots didn’t get it to zero, but it was still solid work as they fed LeGarrette Blount for eight runs on the 10-play drive before turning the ball over to the Buccaneers on downs with 2:57 to play. Nothing too fancy, just a case of the Patriots taking advantage of a worn-down defense (credit to the offensive line) and playing solid situational football to bleed clock and shift field position. Of Blount’s 21 snaps (including penalties), 12 came on the final two drives of the game.

Inactive analysis for the Patriots

September, 12, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Some quick-hit thoughts on the New England Patriots' inactive players for Thursday night's game against the New York Jets:

Debut for Dobson. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, the second-round pick who missed the season opener with a hamstring injury, is set to make his debut. The Patriots have Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce and Dobson atop their receiver depth chart tonight. Also, safeties Duron Harmon (hamstring) and Nate Ebner (ankle) are dressed after not playing in the opener.

A feel for running back corps. With Shane Vereen on injured reserve/designated to return and Brandon Bolden (knee) inactive, it leaves Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington as the active running backs tonight. While Washington would project mostly to a "passing back" role, we wouldn't be surprised to see Ridley stay on the field on some third downs because of his standing as a capable pass protector. How Ridley responds after being benched last week is a big storyline to monitor.

No surprise on Amendola and Gronkowski. As noted Thursday morning, the expectation wasn't that receiver Danny Amendola or tight end Rob Gronkowski would play. On Amendola, we wrote, "Wouldn't be surprised if we don't see him before the Sept. 29 game at Atlanta." On Gronkowski, we wrote, "The first two games never seemed to be a realistic expectation for his return, but if things keep progressing, he might have a chance for the Sept. 22 game against the Buccaneers."

Hoomanawanui and Mulligan at tight end. With both Gronkowski and rookie Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) inactive, it leaves Michael Hoomanawanui and recently re-signed Matthew Mulligan at tight end. Mulligan is almost like an extra offensive lineman in terms of being more of a pure blocker. Hoomanwanui played a career-high 80 snaps in the season opener (including penalties) and delivered a key seal block on Vereen's big run to set up the game-winning field goal.

Picked-up pieces around Patriots

September, 5, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some picked-up pieces from around the Patriots on Thursday:

1. Collins anxious, but ready. Top Patriots draft choice Jamie Collins is readying for his first NFL regular-season action, and the 23-year old can't wait to take the field on Sunday.

"Just anxious," the linebacker said of his first regular-season game. "I'm anxious to play, get out here and see what this regular season is all about."

After being worked on both defense and special teams, including several different defensive spots, Collins said that he's planning to take on any role the coaching staff has in mind for him. "I'm the type of guy that's going to do -- wherever they put me at, I'm going to go do it to the best of my abilities because I'm a team player. No matter what it is, I'm going to do it. No matter if it's quarterback, I'm going to go out there and play."

And while Orchard Park, NY might feel like a world away from Collins' hometown of McCall Creek, Miss., Collins knows his supporters back home will find a way to watch his game on TV.

"They're going to find it," he said. "No matter where it is, they'll find it."

2. Kelly and Ninkovich hold court. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and defensive end Rob Ninkovich were among the players drawing bigger media crowds, giving this day a real “defensive” feel.

One of the topics brought up to Kelly was how he was coming off the field in some sub situations in the preseason, and if he felt was ready to play an entire game if need be. He said he used to do that in Oakland, adding, “this ain’t my first rodeo.” He added that while Bills quarterback EJ Manuel can make plays with his feet, he wouldn't exactly compare him to Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Ninkovich touched on how he complements fellow starting end Chandler Jones (Ninkovich is a lower-leverage player) as well as the importance of keeping Manuel in the pocket and not giving him big rush lanes.

3. White letting the coaches do the scouting. Linebacker Chris White, recently acquired via waivers, knows the Bills well, having spent two-plus seasons in Buffalo (2011 sixth-round pick) before being traded to Detroit last month. But he's letting his new coaches do the scouting report on the Bills.

"The coaches, they pretty much know a lot," he said on Thursday. "They know a lot by themselves, they really don't need a whole lot of help from me, but I'm sure it'll be a fun week, I'm looking forward to it."

He also noted that he's staying away from communicating with his ex-teammates this week before Sunday's kickoff and “sticking to myself.” For those unfamiliar with White's game, he offered a brief self-scouting report: "I feel like I play hard, I play with a lot of energy, and I prepare well. I'm just looking to win every week."

4. Hoomanawanui: Can't view Sudfeld as a rookie. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has been a popular player for reporters this week. On Sunday, he had been swarmed after Rob Gronkowski's return to the field. On Thursday, he fielded some questions on rookie Zach Sudfeld, who projects to a significant role as the team’s top “move” tight end.

"Everyone's played a lot of football. Zach is a rookie, but he's been here long enough, and he's played in enough preseason games, where you have to throw that out the window," he said.

Hoomanawanui has been impressed with how Sudfeld has grapsed the offense, adding that "he's doing a great job asking questions and following older veterans and taking their lead."

Details on Hoomanawanui's restructure

September, 2, 2013
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Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui restructured his contract, which was a one-year deal that would have paid him a base salary of $1.3 million this season.

Here are the new details:

Base salary
$630,000

Split
$358,000 (for full season if he lands on reserve list)

Incentives
$125,000 if he plays 25 percent of snaps
$250,000 if he plays 35 percent of snaps
$370,000 if he plays 45 percent of snaps

So if Hoomanawanui is on the team all season, and plays in 45 percent of the offensive snaps, he will earn $1 million ($630,000 base plus $370,000 in incentives).

Hoomanawanui played 22.8 percent of the offensive snaps last season, according to ESPNBoston tracking. His playing time could spike early this season until Rob Gronkowski returns to full health.

Sharing some midday cut-down thoughts

August, 31, 2013
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Sharing non-Tim Tebow-based thoughts on some of the Patriots' roster moves today:

1a. The change at punter, with Zoltan Mesko out and rookie Ryan Allen in, has many layers. Both showed this preseason that they are deserving of punting in the NFL this season and that's why I took the unconventional approach of keeping both on a final 53-man roster projection (the idea being that maybe it would have been easier to slide Allen to the practice squad after a few weeks). Allen's upside is obvious; his leg is a bit stronger than Mesko's. But Mesko's control and directional punting seemed a notch above over the course of training camp and the preseason. However, Allen's three second-half punts on Thursday might have been the clincher, which showed his potential when it comes to control and directional punting.

Mesko
Allen
1b. Economics shouldn't have been the primary reason for the decision to go with Allen over Mesko, but it has to be a consideration. Mesko was due to earn $1.3 million in the final year of his contract. Allen has a three-year contract and is due to earn $405,000 this season.

1c. There is a trickle-down effect when it comes to the field-goal operation, as Mesko has served as the primary holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Allen didn't hold at Louisiana Tech, but he's worked on the skill since joining the Patriots. Allen will likely become the primary holder, although backup quarterback Ryan Mallett could also be a consideration for the role.

1d. In 2005, the Patriots released rookie kicker Robbie Gould after an impressive camp and later regretted it when Adam Vinatieri departed in free agency the following year. I wondered how much that experience might have played a factor in this decision.

1e. Mesko goes down as one of the players who was most fun to cover. He also seemed most genuine and his farewell message to fans was most classy. One of my favorite personal memories of Mesko was how he was brought to tears after receiving the team's community service award in 2012. It meant so much to him and the emotions took over.

2. The biggest surprise has come among the reserves at defensive end, with Justin Francis, Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham all being cut. They projected to the 3-4-5 spots on the depth chart. Health was likely a factor with Francis and Cunningham, as they have been sidelined. There is always the possibility for them to return if not picked up elsewhere, but an initial thought is that 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan (previous film breakdown) has impressed to the point that the coaching staff felt comfortable letting go of more experienced depth at the position. Buchanan was impressive on Thursday.

3. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was scheduled to earn $1.3 million, but he's agreed to reduce the salary this year with the chance to recoup some of the earnings in incentives, which helped him stick on the roster. Hoomanawanui's smarts, professionalism and dependability made an impression on the coaching staff last season. That he was the last tight end standing among the group of himself, Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells is a minor surprise.

4. The release of defensive tackle Marcus Forston was a mild surprise from this viewpoint. This could mean that rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano is the top backup behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Vellano caught the eye early in training camp, but still didn't think he'd top Forston at this point.

5. Still waiting to hear the fate of presumed bubble players like Vellano, safety Adrian Wilson, running back Leon Washington, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, cornerback Marquice Cole, fullback James Develin and linebacker Steve Beauharnais.
The Patriots have informed veteran tight end Jake Ballard that he will be released today, a source confirms.

The Patriots had waited a year to work with Ballard, who was claimed on waivers from the Giants on June 12, 2012, after undergoing serious knee surgery. Upon his return to the field in 2013 spring camps and then training camp, Ballard said that his knee wasn't back to the point where it was pre-injury, but that he was still working into form. He didn't always appear to be running well.

The 25-year-old played in all four of the team's preseason games, and his primary effectiveness came as an in-line blocker. He didn't catch a pass.

The release of Ballard is a mild surprise, although he did play deep into Thursday night's preseason finale. At the time, it was unclear if that was related to him gaining more comfort with his knee in game action, or if his spot was in jeopardy.

Now we have the answer.

With both Ballard and Daniel Fells told of their release today, the Patriots now have Rob Gronkowski, Zach Sudfeld and Michael Hoomanawanui on the roster at tight end. This could be a sign that Gronkowski has a good chance to open the season on the team's 53-man roster.

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe first reported the news on Ballard.

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