New England Patriots

Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith at 2021 training camp. (Courtesy New England Patriots)

This was almost inevitable. Tight end Hunter Henry has to miss time with an injury, and so the Patriots have to adjust.

The silver lining is that it’s still just training camp and the preseason has yet to begin, and Henry didn’t necessarily need the reps in order to be ready to play at the start of the regular season. But the reality is that Henry has never played a full season in the NFL, and the Pats will have to rely on their depth at the position when he gets banged up.

Jonnu Smith, who missed the majority of OTAs with a hamstring injury, has been in the fold for the entirety of training camp. He figures to simply see an increased workload in Henry’s absence.

One of the most interesting details to note from Monday’s practice in Foxborough: during one period, Smith worked with the quarterbacks by himself. Just Smith, and all three QBs. That’s possibly an indication that he will slide into the in-line “Y” tight end role in “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). Henry is more of a traditional combo tight end and seemed like an ideal fit for that role in camp, but Smith looks like the guy in that spot for now.

Smith has functioned mainly as more of a chess piece in team offensive drills, lining up in different parts of the field and running a variety of routes. His explosiveness has stood out among the Pats’ other weapons, and he has a chance to emerge as their No. 1 pass-catcher.

“They’re going to use my ability, man, to help this team be in the best position possible,” Smith said last Friday, after the team’s first in-stadium practice. “I consider myself a guy that can do a lot of things at the tight end position and you know, whatever it may take to help this team win, that’s what I’m going to do.”

In Henry’s absence, Matt LaCosse has seen an uptick in playing time with the “ones” in camp. While LaCosse will never stand out as a pass-catcher, he’s been executing when given the opportunity, and it seems that the Patriots value his experience in the system. LaCosse may benefit from not having to be a No. 1 tight end or go-to passing game option, and still has an outside shot at making the 53-man roster.

However, second-year tight end Devin Asiasi figures to begin breathing down LaCosse’s neck. Asiasi’s reps in team drills have been minimal in his two practices since returning from COVID-19 reserve. But his reps, particularly compared to LaCosse, will be something to monitor as camp progresses.

“For me, it’s just about getting back into the groove of everything, getting back into my routine with the guys, being guys all day, getting into meetings and getting on the field, getting my reps in and just getting familiar again,” Asiasi said after practice Monday.

The Pats also have Troy Fumagalli and David Wells on the roster at tight end, but they are long shots to make the 53-man roster. They should have a shot at the practice squad.

Big question, now? Whether the Patriots run the risk of overworking Smith, who figures to have a chance at playing almost every offensive snap. He’s a dynamic pass-catcher and capable blocker, so he should be a valuable piece for them in both the running game and passing game, with or without Henry.

Either way, the Patriots’ newfound depth at the tight end position is about to be put to the test.

MORE: Patriots roster projection 1.0

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.