Jake Ballard has had an interesting journey the last 18 months. He went from playing in a Super Bowl with the Giants against the Patriots before being seriously injured, to then being claimed by New England in June of 2012. Now after a year of rehab, he is in-line to being a starting tight end for them once the 2013 season starts in September.
His 2011 production of 38 receptions for 604 yards and 4 TDs were very good numbers for his first NFL action. Ballard was injured in the second half of New York’s 21-17 win in the Super Bowl and suffered a serious knee injury. The Giants placed him on IR during the off-season which required him to pass through waivers.
Except that Bill Belichick and the Patriots went against the grain in these type matters and claimed Ballard. At the time the Patriots were deemed to be just stockpiling a slew of depth at tight end, having Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells, and Michael Hoomanwanui while also adding Visanthe Shiancoe.
Now the move looks more and more like a coup for New England.
The year off allowed Ballard to regain his health and the 6’6, 275 lb tight end is nearly 100% returned to health. He was an active participant in the Patriots OTAs and Mini-camps and was running without the benefit of a knee brace and seemed to observers to be close to ready for training camp.
And that is great news for the Patriots, with Hernandez being released and Gronkowski on the mend, Ballard would, at least initially assume one of the starting slots once training camp begins in earnest on July 26.
Ballard, while built similar to Gronkowski doesn’t have the breakaway capability that the Gronk possesses but for now and in the “Y” position, he has very good hands and is able to snag balls in traffic. Once Gronkowski is healthy, Ballard as the #2 TE would be a solid and dependable performer.
In an interview with the Boston media after a spring workout, Ballard spoke about his year plus with the Patriots, “I watched all last year here, just looking over the playbook and mainly doing rehab,” he said.
“But I got a sense of what the offense is about. Now these OTAs and meeting sessions have helped a lot.”
Also in the mix at the “Y” position will be undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld who turned heads in the t-shirts/shorts spring workouts by displaying a nice set of hands and the ability to find seams in the defense.
And with the Patriots utilizing the running game more last year than in previous seasons, Ballard would be a nice boost in the blocking department. He’d be joined ably by Fells and Hoomanawanui who both weren’t big options in the passing game last season but will be looked to more early in the season possibly in the “move-tight end” role held by Hernandez in 2012 . Brandon Ford a converted wide receiver from Clemson will also vie for the Joker snaps, but he missed all of the spring workouts with an injury.
But for Ballard, he seems a good fit for the “Y” tight end slot. He should be able to at least duplicate those 2011 numbers with Quarterback Tom Brady. He’s been studying the Patriots offense for a year, so he’s intimately familiar with it, now he just gets to put it into a practical application on the ground.
We’ll be there at Training Camp to not only watch Ballard but others who are vying for roster positions. And if you have any questions both before or during camp, send them in to us and we’ll do our best to get the answers out.
Listen in to our Patriots Central podcast with co-host Jeremy Dawson and myself as we bring you some of the best Patriots news and interviews. Our latest was with Patriots beat writer from WEEI Chris Price and can be found here: