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Matt LaCosse sits atop Patriots TE depth chart

More than any team, the New England Patriots revel in the "next man up" philosophy, plugging in seemingly dismissible players and chugging along to their latest division title.

No more so will that philosophy be evident this spring than in the tight end room. Rob Gronkowski retired. Veteran replacement Benjamin Watson is suspended to open the season. And the team just cut Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is dealing with a personal issue.

"Yeah, it's the first time in a long time," Brady told reporters Thursday when asked about the adjustment to life without Gronk. "He was such a great player for our team. Like with any season, things are different and we're going to have to adjust. Teams are going to play us differently without him. We've seen that even when he's on the team.

"So, the other guys are getting up to speed. [Matt LaCosse's] done a good job, Ben's done a good job, Stephen Anderson's done a good job. That's got to be a position of strength, even if it's not one player, it's multiple players doing different roles. There was times in my career before when we had similar approaches. No one is going to make any excuses for our offense and we're going to do everything we can do to be the best we can be and score every time we touch the ball. The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us."

The next man up right now is four-year veteran Matt LaCosse, who has a grand total of 27 career catches.

"Obviously it's a good opportunity, but nothing has been earned yet," LaCosse said Wednesday from Patriots minicamp, via ESPN's Mike Reiss. "We still have a really long way to go. Everyone is competing for the same spot. It's one of those things you keep your pedal on the metal and you kind of get what you earn here."

An undrafted free agent out of Illinois in 2015, LaCosse bounced around practice squads in New York before playing in two games for the Giants as a rookie, snagging three receptions. A preseason knee injury wiped out his 2016 season. In 2017 he played in five games with the Giants and Denver Broncos but did not compile a catch.

The 26-year-old finally earned snaps in Denver last season, playing in 15 games, starting five. He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown, displaying some ability to create separation underneath and in the flat.

"He's a young player that has some talent, he's played in the league, and we feel like he has some upside. We'll see how it goes in our system," coach Bill Belichick said.

LaCosse should get plenty of opportunities to reach that upside this summer unless the Pats import a veteran via trade before training camp kicks off next month.

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