NFL: New England Patriots-Training Camp

Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo runs obstacles during training camp last week.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It is a position in transition.

“We don’t know,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty readily admitted when asked on training camp reporting day what the team’s tight end position would look like post-Rob Gronkowski. “Obviously (he was) a huge part of the organization for nine years. I got to come in here with him as a rookie and go through a lot together, but we’ll see how it goes.

“I think that’s the thing in football: The one thing that’s consistent is change. We all know it’s going to happen. I’m excited to go into this year. (Gronkowski) looks like he’s having an awesome time on Instagram. I’m really happy for him being able to have a great career and leave the game on your own terms. We’ll see how it works out for us.”

Yes, change is constant, but this is drastic.

From “one of a kind” — a Hall of Fame talent with a personality to match — the Patriots are transitioning to “who are those guys?”

In his second go-round with the Patriots, 38-year-old Ben Watson has made a name for himself, not to mention 530 receptions in 195 games dating back to his start in New England as a first-round draft choice in 2004.

But beyond him there is a cast of relative unknowns (Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck, Ryan Izzo, Lance Kendricks and Matt LaCosse).

As for Watson, well, the four-game suspension he must serve at the start of the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances has left the 26-year-old LaCosse — he of the 27 career receptions in 22 games over four seasons with the New York Giants and Denver; 24 coming in 15 games with the Broncos last year — as the apparent No. 1 tight end heading toward the regular-season opener with Pittsburgh at Gillette Stadium the night of Sept. 8.

LaCosse flashed at the team’s June mini-camp and made a pretty catch of a pass from Brian Hoyer for a touchdown on a seam route last Friday.

Like Watson and LaCosse, both Anderson and Kendricks have NFL experience. Anderson caught 36 passes in 28 games over two seasons with the Houston Texans before he spent the bulk of last year on the Patriots’ practice squad. Kendricks made 241 receptions in 125 games over eight seasons with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers.

But to think anyone can give the team the blocking and receiving that Gronkowski gave them is as ridiculous as it is unfair. And neither Beck, a rookie free agent who played his college football at Texas, and Izzo, a seventh-round draft pick out of Florida State last year who spent the season on injured reserve, has a down of NFL experience.

With the expected dropoff from Gronkowski’s production, there are other options available to the team.

A solid group of backs (veterans Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden and Damien Harris, a third-round draft pick of the team this year) and a solid offensive line will be asked to establish a ground game. White (in particular) and Burkhead (when healthy) have shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Three- and four-wide receiver sets are a distinct possibility, although the talent and depth at that position are question marks, too.

“You’ve got to play with who’s out here,” said White. “We have a lot of talented guys in this locker room, but you’ve got to put the work in. Everybody finds their roles. We have a great offensive coordinator (Josh McDaniels). They’ll put people in the right place and see if we can go out there and succeed.”

Kendricks, who signed with the Patriots on the day they reported to camp, believes the group of tight ends the team has assembled will be equal to the task that’s asked of them.

“I think we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said Kendricks. “If our number’s called and we need to go out there and make a play, I think we can go out there and make a play.”