If Rob Gronkowski is going to miss some time for back surgery – quite possibly the first six games of the season depending on how the Patriots play their cards – there has to be some consensus on who does what in his stead.

Luckily, there's plenty of game tape from 2012 to give us an idea of how the Patriots will handle the loss of their all-pro tight end. There are plenty of new bodies to consider who can be useful substitutes.

Gronkowski led the Patriots last year with 750 snaps as the team's primary tight end, or "Y." Aaron Hernandez was right behind him with 723 snaps as the team's flex tight end. Michael Hoomanawanui (363) and Daniel Fells (338) trailed afterward. Hoomanawanui worked as both a primary and flex tight end. Fells' role appeared to be solidly as a Y, used mainly in blocking situations.

While all are still on the roster, the group has swelled. Throw Jake Ballard into the mix after he sat out 2012 with an ACL tear. He started 13 of 14 games he played for the New York Giants in 2011. During organized team activities, he's been working as the first team Y. Then there's rookie free agent signee Zach Sudfeld. The Central California native has a bit of a scary health history too, receiving a medical redshirt to play a sixth season at Nevada after going through shoulder, leg, knee, and wrist surgeries while in college. At 6-7, 225 pounds, he's also deemed to be a Y tight end. Then there's Clemson product Brandon Ford, who also signed as a rookie free agent. He's 6-3, 240 pounds and comes with an impressive resume (40 catches for 480 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2012).

The contrast between the rookies has been striking. Sudfeld has stood out by moving well and catching balls thrown his way as he's taken on more repetitions in practice. He's rising fast on the depth chart, that's for sure.