The Patriots are without their two best-known tight ends during drills at this week’s set of organized team activities, but they do have one long-absent member of the position group back at work.
Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com reports that Jake Ballard was on the field with his teammates during Tuesday’s practice, the first time he’s been on the practice field with media in attendance since the Patriots claimed him off of waivers from the Giants last June. Ballard tore his ACL and suffered extensive other damage to his knee in the second half of the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI victory over the Pats.
Per Yates, Ballard spent some time doing resistance running with a strength coach but was able to “participate in the majority of practice reps” during the session. The Patriots expect Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez back for training camp and the season, but Ballard will give them good insurance should one or both miss time.
Ballard isn’t likely to replicate their numbers, but he became a frequent and reliable target for Eli Manning on the way to that Super Bowl title. He caught 38 passes for 604 yards while also doing his part as a run blocker. Should he be back to full health, Ballard has a chance to be a useful piece for the Patriots offense even if everyone’s healthy.