Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins Continue to Excel While Showcasing Separate Strengths (Notes)

Aaron DobsonFOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots offense took a backseat to the defense on Friday, but the rookie wide receivers continue to show they’re ready to compete on the big stage.

Their first real challenge will come in exactly one week when New England travels to Philadelphia for their first preseason game. Until then, we just have to go on reps taken against teammates. But in those snaps, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins continue to shine.

Dobson is the guy who can go up over a defender to make the big play. He’s got deep speed and can shrug a defender with a stutter step. Dobson is not at his best out of breaks and in precise routes. He’ll slow down a little bit, and doesn’t showcase the foot speed of someone like Boyce.

Boyce is at his best when he has to make quick cuts. That’s his best way to gain separation so far, losing defenders who can’t keep up with his impressive agility. Boyce may not be the best fit for the Patriots’ “X” position, but should do well in the slot or “Z.”

Thompkins has been the most consistent. He’ll make the big play down the field, and is an impressive route runner. Thompkins may be best suited for the “Z,” but he could fit at the “X” or slot too.

Obviously Danny Amendola will be the start at the “Z” in two receiver sets and the slot in three-wide formations, but it’s nice the Patriots have three rookies that can serve all three roles at wide receiver. That’s not to say any of them will be Week 1 starters, but they’re showing they’re well ahead of the curve from what New England is used to out of rookie wideouts.

Rob Gronkowski and Mark Harrison were spotted in sweats, but did not participate. Cory GrissomDan Connolly and Brandon Bolden were limited. Marcus Cannon, Ras-I Dowling, Kevin Haslam, Jermaine Cunningham and Armond Armstead were not spotted.

OFFENSE

-Tim Tebow had a better practice on Friday, but still hangs on to the ball too long and struggles with accuracy. He looks most comfortable when New England is running formations that play to his strengths.

-Julian Edelman continues to look comfortable coming off his foot injury. He beat Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington , Aqib Talib and Marquice Cole in 1-on-1s. He looked to aggravate something at the end of practice. Michael Jenkins and Shane Vereen also sat out the end of practice.

-Markus Zusevics was taking snaps at right guard. He was swapping in and out with Tyronne Green in Connolly and Cannon’s absence.

-Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells appear to be competing for starting snaps at tight end. Zach Sudfeld is making a push, though.

-Nate Solder has been up and down during 1-on-1s, but it seems in general that drill favors defenders.

DEFENSE

-McCourty spent the entire practice at cornerback. He participated in some drills on Thursday at corner, but has spent the majority of time at safety. He was beating the wide receivers at the bottom of the depth chart in 1-on-1s, but got beat by Edelman.

-Nate Ebner began practice on the bike. Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson were taking more snaps with the first-team on Friday. Adrian Wilson and Steve Gregory got the majority of snaps with the 1s while McCourty was at right cornerback. Adrian Wilson continues to play a lot up at the line.

-Marcus Benard was taking snaps with the first-teamers on Friday. That’s likely due to Cunningham’s absence, but “Dragon” continues to be impressive in 1-on-1s, too. Benard beat Will Svitek in that drill. No one is consistently better than Benard in 1-on-1s. Bill Belichick called Benard a hard worker in his afternoon press conference.

-The defense hasn’t been overly impressive in juke drills. Dont’a Hightower went high, while Michael Buchanan and Benard whiffed.

-Marcus Forston got some snaps at the nose during 11-on-11s in place of Vince Wilfork. The Patriots must have confidence in the second-year player, there’s not much depth behind Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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