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Patriots training camp preview: Will there be more two-tight end groupings?

Related: Patriots training camp preview: Who will emerge as New England’s top wide receiver?

NFL: JUN 07 New England Patriots Minicamp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ 2022 training camp is right around the corner. On Wednesday, the team will reconvene at Gillette Stadium to kick off its next level of preparation for the upcoming season — and all that goes with it: full-contact practices, camp competitions, joint sessions, you name it.

Leading up to this year’s camp, we will take a look at all position groups on New England’s roster to give you some idea about the key actors, battles and storylines at each of them. Today, we will continue at tight end.

Position group

The Patriots’ tight end position saw only a few minor changes over the course of the offseason; the moves made the previous two years still serve as the basis for the group in 2022. At the moment, the club therefore has five tight ends under contract.

  • Hunter Henry: 27 | signed through 2023
  • Jonnu Smith: 26 | signed through 2024
  • Devin Asiasi: 24 | signed through 2023
  • Dalton Keene: 23 | signed through 2023 | Roster breakdown
  • Matt Sokol: 26 | signed through 2022

The Patriots’ tight end position is a tale of two groups. At the top are Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who both arrived during last year’s free agency spending spree and are locks to make the roster. Behind them, third-year men Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — former third-round draft picks — will compete against Matt Sokol for a spot on the roster.

Camp competitions

Devin Asiasi vs. Dalton Keene vs. Matt Sokol: With Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith safe and only so many roster spots available, it is not inconceivable that the Patriots will keep just three tight ends on their active roster this year. The question is who the third man behind Henry and Smith will be. Asiasi appears to be the favorite after serving as TE3 in 2021, but Keene’s versatility might make him a dark-horse candidate to make the cut instead of him. Journeyman Sokol appears to only have an outside chance.

Stories to watch

Will Jonnu Smith show some growth in Year 2? The story is well known: the Patriots signed Smith to a massive four-year, $50 million contract last offseason but he failed to live up to expectations. This year being different would be huge for the entire offense and immensely improve the playmaking potential of the unit. For that to happen, however, Smith will need a good training camp and to build some chemistry with quarterback Mac Jones.

Will there be more two-tight end groupings? Even though both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are viable starter-level tight ends, the Patriots only used two-tight end sets on 18.6 percent of their offensive snaps in 2021. Getting Smith slowly phased into the system and his role as a blocker compared to Henry’s — he was more of, and better as, a receiver — appeared to be the main reason for that, so it will be interesting to see how a possible second-year jump out of the former will impact the usage of such multi-TE packages.

How many backups will be kept around? As noted above, it seems likely the Patriots will keep only three tight ends on their active roster this year. That does not mean the entire depth at the position will be down to three players: New England could also use the practice squad to its advantage to add additional layers behind the projected top three of Henry, Smith and Asiasi. Dalton Keene in particular appears to be a realistic candidate to make the developmental team as de facto TE4.