BOSTON (CBS) – Who the heck is going to catch passes for the New England Patriots this season?

That’s the burning question on everyone’s mind with all that has happened to the Patriots this off-season, and one we might not have an answer for until the season begins.

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Rob Gronkowski is expected to miss some games after an off-season of surgeries, and one of the guys that would be counted on to step up, Aaron Hernandez, is in jail facing a murder charge.

The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Wednesday, and says it will take a lot from unproven Tom Brady targets to fill the void for the Patriots.

“Somebody somewhere along the way is going to have a career year,” said Howe. “Danny Amendola is going to have to prove that he can stay healthy. You need to have a rookie like Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce, one of those guys is going to have to step up and break this long run of poor draft choice performances out of the wide receivers. Then you need to look at Donald Jones, LaVelle Hawkins and Michael Jenkins — the veterans they brought in — and one of those guys is going to have to snap out of it.”

“All of those guys flashed at points during the spring and summer, but none were really consistent. At least one of those guys is going to have to have a career season.”

“Amendola has the making of a guy that can catch 100-110 passes right off the bat, but he’s going to have to stay healthy to do that,” said Howe. “That would break a string of tough situations he’s been in… As a slot receiver, as a smaller guy, you’re getting hit by bigger safeties and linebackers; you’re getting hit every snap by players that are bigger than you. He’s proven he’s the type of guy that will go down.”

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“There are just so many question marks, and they’re going to have to answer them right away,” he said of the Patriots offense. “You have to think a call will be made to Deion Branch, guys that are familiar with the situation, before training camp in two weeks.”

So who could have that career year that Howe was talking about?

“It’s hard to say, just because so many guys were injured at some point this spring,” he said. “Coming our of mini camp I thought Hernandez would have a huge year, because he’s going to have to have a huge year. That was a fall back for them, and that’s blown up. Jake Ballard is a guy people are looking at, but how realistic can you look at a guy coming off microfracture surgery 16 months ago.”

All of this will add up to a very challenging year for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

“Everyone can look at 2006 when they did a lot of things [without marquee targets for Brady], but they at least had the comfort knowing the defense was a veteran group that could take care of themselves,” said Howe. “This year, the defense looks really promising, and there are a lot of good pieces in play. Belichick has already shown he’s going to trust them to show some different looks and maybe blitz more. They have a strong secondary, or at least the makings of one, for the first time in a while. The front seven, they have a lot of different parts and some guys who can actually rush the passer.”

“I think there is going to be some pressure for the offense to match up with the defense, and when is the last time we said that,” questions Howe.

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