When the New England Patriots announced their initial 53-man roster for the 2018 season, then-rookie tight end Ryan Izzo was part of it — and for one day it would remain that way. However, the team ultimately placed him on its injured reserve list ahead of the deadline for players to become eligible to be reactivated later during the regular season. Izzo’s first year in the NFL therefore ended with a championship but zero games played.
Now in his second season with the Patriots, Izzo already has six games on his résumé as well as six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. His production as a pass catcher, however, might not be his defining trait in 2019: he is the only tight end on New England’s payroll to appear in every game this season, and has been a model of stability — at least when it comes to his availability throughout the early portions of the regular season.
“The number one thing is he’s been out there every day, except for maybe a practice here or there. When you’re healthy and practicing, you have an opportunity to make progress and improve, and I think that’s what we’ve seen from Ryan,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during a conference call last Friday when talking about Izzo’s role within the offense — one that saw the retirement of Rob Gronkowski this offseason.
Without Gronkowski and fellow tight end Dwayne Allen, the Patriots used numerous players at the position over the course of the summer. Ultimately, however, they went with their longest-tenured option (Izzo) as well as free agency acquisition Matt LaCosse. On Tuesday, journeyman Eric Tomlinson was also signed to bolster the group’s depth in light of LaCosse being expected to miss “a few weeks” because of an MCL injury.
Izzo, meanwhile, has been available ever since returning to the practice fields off the injured reserve list. For McDaniels, his development since then — and going back all the way since he joined the club as the 250th overall draft pick — has been noteworthy: “Ryan’s got a great attitude and a great approach. He works extremely hard and he’s just continuing to develop as a young player in all areas of that position, which is a difficult position.”
“There’s a lot that goes into playing tight end. You’re a pass receiver, you’re a run blocker, you’re a pass protector. There’s a lot of things that could change on a single play,” he said. “We ask them to read things in the coverage. Their responsibilities in the running game could certainly change based on the fronts or the looks we get. So, there’s a lot of challenges to that position [...] They have a ton of things that we put on their plate each week.”
“For a young player to continue to work at those things — he sticks his face in there, he’s physical and tough in the running game, he’s made some contributions for us obviously in the passing game, he’s had good hands when he’s had the opportunity to catch the football in the passing game — Ryan’s continuing to develop,” McDaniels continued. “Certainly, we have a long way to go; we would say that with all our guys.”
While Izzo naturally is a clear downgrade from Gronkowski and has had his fair share of ups and downs this season, he did get plenty of action both in practice and during games. For a young player that is essentially in his first year in the NFL, those reps are invaluable and allowed him to create a foundation upon which he will continue to build — and with LaCosse out for the time being, Izzo will see a lot more opportunities to do just that.