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NFL SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT

Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez fits into tight spot

Second-year player has become a capable target for Tom Brady; that is, when he runs his routes correctly.

November 12, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez hangs on to the ball as Jets linebacker David Harris takes off his helmet on a hit in the first half of a game last month.
Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez hangs on to the ball as Jets linebacker… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)

New England tight end Aaron Hernandez is in only his second NFL season, but from the way he talks about his rookie year, you'd think he was referring to some kind of devil-may-care days of a decade ago.

"I wasn't the most disciplined player, and I thought I had all the answers," the former University of Florida standout told reporters, according to the Boston Herald. "But I realized that I got to do it the team's way, and I just had to be more disciplined. I was a young player, and I thought I was right all of the time. I thought my way worked, but it really didn't. It was just me being very immature. This year, it's getting better."

That's showing on the field as Hernandez has emerged as one of Tom Brady's top targets. Heading into Sunday night's game at the New York Jets, he has 33 catches for 333 yards with five touchdowns.

It's not that Hernandez had a disappointing first year — he finished with 45 catches for 563 yards with six touchdowns — but he was far more productive in the first eight games of his rookie season.

His transgressions weren't missteps off the field, but he wasn't a technician in running his routes and he resisted the so-called Patriot way of doing things.

"Like breaking routes short because I thought I was open," he said, "or not recognizing a defense quick enough to make the move I needed to make. But it comes with time, and it's better as time goes on.

"Say I have a route at 12 yards. If I was open at 10, they'll still hit me [in college.] But with Tom, when he throws it, if you're not exactly there in the right spot then it could be a pick. There's a lot of trust he has in you to be on the field at the right place, right time."

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