With an influx of young, new talent, there was no telling how the New England Patriots would look in their first week and a half of training camp. The results are in: They’re looking pretty good.
There were major questions surrounding the rookie wide receivers, and whether Michael Jenkins would have to step up as the starter to begin the season. And with Rob Gronkowski hurt and Aaron Hernandez gone, someone had to take the reins at tight end. While we’ll know more after Friday’s preseason game against the Eagles, both of those positions are looking surprisingly good as New England prepares for its first joint practice with Philadelphia.
Plenty of players stood out among the 90-man crowd, though. The rookie receivers all had their moment to shine, and a few undrafted players had everyone scratching their heads as to why their names were not called among the 254 players selected in late April.
Check out the Top 5 most impressive offensive performers at Patriots training camp below.
Tom Brady: It should be no surprise that the 36-year-old quarterback has been impressive in training camp — he’s one of the best of all time. What has really stood out, though, is how patient he has been with his new wide receivers.
It was common in the past to hear Brady bark at wide receivers who missed their routes, dropped a pass or read the defense wrong. Outbursts have been few and far between this summer, though, as Brady appears to be living out the quote he gave reporters after Tim Tebow signed with the team: “I don’t worry about much these days.”
There have been some throwing miscues from Brady, which is to be expected during training camp with a brand new crop of wideouts, but there’s nothing to say Brady won’t be back at the top of his game this season.
Danny Amendola: Amendola may be one of the major reasons Brady doesn’t appear to be worrying much these days (a supermodel wife certainly can’t hurt, either). Amendola has taken over for Wes Welker seamlessly so far in 2013. It’s downright fun to watch the free agent run routes out on the Gillette Stadium practice field. He’s also one of the more dependable receivers out there, rarely dropping passes and seemingly always being where Brady expects him to be.
Amendola lines up in the slot and out wide and runs every route you can imagine from curls to outs to fly patterns. He has a couple of inches on Welker, which could mean seeing more deep routes out of the slot than we were used to in years past.
If Amendola stays healthy (a phrase that will be uttered many times his season), the 27-year-old wideout should have no problem replacing Welker’s production from last season. And with Brady not putting him in compromising situations, Amendola has a much better chance at staying healthy in 2013.
Rookie wide receivers: OK, this is sort of cheating, but whatever. Expectations were mixed for Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce as they entered their first NFL training camp, but so far, it couldn’t have possibly gone better. Sure, Dobson and Boyce have had their rookie moments. Dobson lined up on the wrong side of the field once, and both have had their fair share of drops. But for the most part, Dobson and Boyce have played up to the skill sets that draft analysts hyped back in April.
Dobson is the receiver who can fly down the field, leap in the air and pick the ball over defenders. And Boyce is the wideout who can line up all over the field and gain separation with his quick feet and elite agility.
The player who has far surpassed expectations is Kenbrell Thompkins, an undrafted free agent who has been the best out of the three wide receivers and could be in line for a starting role if his impressive performances keep up. Another UDFA receiver, Quentin Sims, has also been better than expected and would likely be receiving far more pub if Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins haven’t been so good.
Zach Sudfeld: While Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard are what they are — dependable borderline-starting level tight ends without elite athleticism — undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld is the player who could be a breakout star with Gronkowski injured. Sudfeld is a step (or two or three) faster than the rest of the tight ends and hasn’t looked like a rookie during training camp.
Sudfeld has shown off dependable hands, great speed, nice movement after the catch and a veteran demeanor (not to mention flowing blond hair that makes him easy to pick out of the group). The rookie had numerous surgeries as a collegian at Nevada, but if he can stay healthy, he could be the main beneficiary of snaps while Gronkowski recovers.
Sudfeld has lined up all over the field, from inline to the slot to the flex tight end spot. If there’s a player on the roster who could replace what Hernandez did, it’s the 6-foot-6, 260-pound rookie.
Marcus Cannon: The third-year offensive lineman went down with an undisclosed injury midway through camp, but before he disappeared, he was looking great at right guard in Dan Connolly‘s absence. The Patriots actually appear to be cursed at right guard so far this season. Connolly has yet to practice, Cannon went down, Tyronne Green has missed practice and Markus Zusevics was in uniform but not in action Monday. That left Will Svitek, who has never played the position, to take starting snaps on Monday.
Cannon may be the best man for that job, though, and looked great in padded one-on-ones. Cannon played tackle his first two season in the league, but his size and skill set suggests he could be an even better interior blocker. That certainly showed through the first few days of camp practice.
It makes sense that the Patriots tried Cannon at tackle his first two seasons. Sebastian Vollmer was due for a new contract after last season. But after Vollmer re-signed, it’s common sense that the Patriots would try to move Cannon to a position he can start.