Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 3/15/13
Patriots fans depressed over Wes Welker leaving town will be pleasantly surprised with the offense this fall. In fact, there’s a good chance Tom Brady‘s offense will be better now that Welker will be reaching for fluttering Peyton Manning widow-makers up the middle in Denver. Sure, Welker caught passes at record-setting paces — but guess what? He joins a handful of other players to set records being on the same team as Brady. Fans do have a right to miss Welker because Brady relied on No. 83 to not just catch footballs, but to read defenses just as he did — on third downs, on blitzes, in snow storms and probably even in Hebrew. Welker and Brady had a connection few quarterback-wide receivers ever had, and it wasn’t just on a pass-catch level. As New Englanders have seen way too often, a Patriots wide receiver is either on the same page as Brady or he’s in the completely wrong section of the library. Welker and Brady reacted as one in New England, and it resulted in about 600 total receptions. Familiarity was key, and Brady has a right to be upset that someone he’s worked with and relied upon since 2007 is now gone. At Brady’s age, he probably isn’t too keen on working with new targets, especially after grooming Welker into an automatic reception. Brady’s an old dog — does he have time to learn and teach any new tricks? Sure he does. If Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez taught New Englanders anything, it’s that there are players out there that can immediately catch on. And not just catch on, but torch defenses play after play. Sure, there will be a Chad Ochocinco and Joey Galloway to come in, fail miserably and leave town, but the Pats have a pair of “new guys” who are destined to fit right in and make an immediate impact. Enter tight end Jake Ballard and Welker’s “replacement” Danny Amendola – two guys who aren’t the gambles Pats fans are have been used to seeing enter Patriot Place. Ballard, who was brought in last year when the Giants put him on waivers, is under contract with the team, according to the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe. Howe points out that Ballard’s contract “was tolled into 2013 because he was kept on the physically unable to perform list last season.” This is a very, very good thing. Ballard only brings a year of experience to the table, but it was one heck of a year. He also enters the year coming off a knee injury that forced him to sit out all of 2012, so that’s clearly a red flag, too. But Ballard proves to have what it takes to help re-shape this Patriots offense. Catching 38 passes (four of which for touchdowns) for 604 yards in 2011, Ballard led all tight ends with 15.9 yards per catch. That year (the only year so far that Gronk, Hernandez and Ballard were closest to 100 percent), the trio combined for 207 receptions, 2,841 yards and 28 touchdowns. Not to mention, it was Eli Manning — not Brady — feeding Ballard. So the Buckeye clearly can bring a reliable set of hands to this offense. But Ballard simply being on this offense, whether he catches 20 balls or 120 balls in 2013, is going to make the difference. Josh McDaniels can now keep two or three tight ends in and have the speedy Hernandez line up either: in the slot, out wide or even in the backfield, like we saw a few times in 2012. Hernandez has the size to out-muscle most defensive backs and the speed to out-maneuver most linebackers, so bouncing him around in formation is his key to success. Ballard and Gronk give the Pats two big, versatile tight ends that can stay in the trenches or sneak out into the open field — something that has proven to make the Pats nearly unstoppable. Add in Michael Hoomanawanui as a pass blocker and things are looking pretty good for Mr. Brady’s offense. Now add Amendola into the mix. A younger (but taller!) version of Welker, he has a lot of pressure riding on him as he begins his Patriots journey. His injury history makes fans a bit skeptical but his pre-Brady stats are far better than Welker’s were — although many variables come in to play with that statement. He also didn’t drop 15 passes in 2012 like Welker did, so that’s another good thing for you “Danny Amen” fans. McDaniels is somewhat familiar with Amendola from their time in 2011, when McDaniels was offensive coordinator. Although Amendola played in just one game that year, McDaniels clearly liked what he saw as he was most likely very instrumental in bringing him to New England earlier this week. Replacing Welker isn’t going to be easy for Amendola but it’s very possible. Julien Edelman — a former college quarterback, mind you – proved a few times that Welker isn’t the only scrappy slot guy who can catch Brady’s passes up the middle. A revamped, Welker-less offense is what Brady and the Pats need. They failed to win a Super Bowl with a Welker-led attack so fans can’t blame the Patriots for moving on. With Ballard and Amendola giving Brady’s offense a fresh look, it will be easy to forget about Welker in 2013.
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