The New England Patriots have been searching for a reliable tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski ever since the 2013 season. It was Michael Hoomanawanui in 2013, followed by Tim Wright in 2014, Scott Chandler in 2015, and Martellus Bennett in 2016. Bennett is clearly the class of those options, but the Patriots have been unable to form any type of consistency at the position.
So the team acquired TE Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts this offseason to try and find a long-term fix to the position. Allen is under contract for the next three seasons and, if he pans out, could be the fix the team has been looking for.
After an ugly spring, Allen is working on shaking off the stink of the Colts and fitting in with the Patriots culture.
“It's exciting to come to work, but it's been really hard,” Allen said, via CSNNE. “Like, I'm not going to sugarcoat it: It is hard, but also stimulating and very exciting. It's one of those things where you pray for something for so long and then it comes to you, you can't cry because it's hard. You just have to accept it and be thankful that your prayers were answered.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave credit to Allen during Wednesday’s press conference, noting that Allen’s “made good progress” on “some of the more physical aspects of his position,” before giving the ultimate praise by calling Allen “dependable.”
“He’s out there every day,” Belichick said. “He’s a dependable player, gives great effort, has a good attitude, very coachable. You tell him to try and do something, even though he’s been doing it maybe differently at other points in his career in college or at Indianapolis or whatever, he tries to do it the way you ask him to do it.”
After a strong rookie season as both a receiver and blocker, Allen’s battled injuries and saw a decline in his blocking ability. He’s been giving special attention to improving his blocking to earn time in the New England offense.
“I've definitely got to knock the rust off,” Allen said via the Boston Herald. “It's one of those things that I'm going to be required to be stout at the point of attack, and it's something that I've always taken pride in. Coach has always been great at putting individual players in the best position to succeed. I believe that I'll be put in those positions to be the lead point blocker a lot this year.”
Allen’s ability as a receiver hasn’t declined, although his usage rate in the Colts offense- he’s averaged 3.3 targets per game over the past three seasons- seems like peanuts for an above-average receiver. If Allen’s blocking has truly improved, then he’ll likely see more time on the field and ultimately more targets in the Patriots offense.
Even QB Tom Brady knows the importance of the second tight end position.
“That position has been really critical for us over the years,” Brady said on Wednesday. “You know, tight ends that play opposite Rob [Gronkowski] get a lot of opportunity. He’s going to need to take advantage of them, and it’s going to be great for our team if he does.”
The fastest way into the Patriots doghouse is to miss the opportunities that are granted, so Allen will have to take advantage of all his targets.
Part of the reason the Patriots acquired Allen is for his red zone ability, where he has the best red zone touchdown rate for all tight ends since entering the league and the second-best red zone touchdown rate overall of all active wide receivers and tight ends (behind some guy named Brandin Cooks and ahead of another guy named Danny Amendola). Allen will need to use his red zone ability and his blocking as cornerstones to grow his time in the Patriots offense.
If Allen can once again be the player that he was in 2012, then the Patriots will have finally found a long-term solution to their tight end problem.