The adjectives we can use to describe the movement of a football player are numerous. He can be fast or slow, agile or physical, or maybe a shifty little dude. But nearly a month ago when OTAs were wrapping up, a rather unfortunate one was used to describe Jake Ballard and how his bones and muscles were moving on a football field: rigid.
Yes, Ballard wasn’t exactly moving fluidly throughout offseason workouts, which shows the severity of his injuries suffered in the 2011 Super Bowl. Oh and also, it shows that despite how much we often view NFL players as something far above human, getting your knee repeatedly sliced up isn’t an easy thing for any person whose body is structured according to normal design. Ballard tore his ACL and then had microfracture surgery, and although no one would have ever associated one of the above adjectives with him (agile), he still plays a position where a certain amount of cutting and shifting is required.
And he’s not really capable of that yet.
With training camps beginning throughout this week, teams are now placing their various broken pieces on the PUP list. It wasn’t surprising whatsoever to see the Patriots designate Rob Gronkowski, their stud tight end whose chances of being ready for opening day are desperate at best. But they placed Ballard on the PUP too, which confirms what we’ve believed for the past month when word of his rigid movements first surfaced. He may be lucky just to be rostered in September.
For further confirmation of that fact, here’s someone who has watched Ballard try to move his rusty body…
Watching Ballard in OTAs, hard not to notice he looked a little stiff. Don’t think he’s a lock for the 53, even with TE issues
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) July 23, 2013
This clouds the Patriots’ tight end depth chart, and it possibly presents an opportunity for super deep sleeper Zach Sudfeld to emerge. Please do that, Zach, because then I’ll look intelligent.
In hindsight, assuming Ballard would simply ascend and inherit the bulk of the tight end targets with Aaron Hernandez doing prison pushups and Gronk possibly missing the first six weeks was always flawed thinking. Perhaps more accurately, it was hopeful thinking, because for fantasy purposes we instinctively seek clarity. Why, just look at all the position battles that are about to begin around sunny football fields. Uncertainty isn’t fun.
But it’s laughable to compare even a healthy Ballard to Hernandez, since he doesn’t have anywhere near the versatility. Hernandez was a tight end in name only often last year, lining up at wide receiver on 59 percent of his snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s a role much more suited for Shane Vereen, which is why in addition to an uptick in targets for Danny Amendola, Vereen is the ideal option to be plugged into a sort of hybrid Hernandez/Danny Woodhead role. Then if Gronkowski isn’t healthy, gimmie some Sudfeld, or Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawaui if they can hold him off.
Just stay away from Ballard, even though his PUP stay should be short. His ceiling and usage will be extremely limited.
C’mon Sudsy. We need you now.