FOXBORO, Mass. — Julian Edelman trotted out onto the practice field at Gillette Stadium with his teammates in full pads, which must have been a welcome sight for Tom Brady.
With an entirely new group of wide receivers on the roster, Brady has enjoyed some highs and suffered through some lows so far in training camp. So, Edelman’s return to the fold should ease some of the pressure Brady’s felt thus far and at least provide the all-everything quarterback with some sense of security in his receiving corps.
Edelman is by far the most experienced receiver on the Patriots’ roster. Matthew Slater and camp breakout star Kamar Aiken have some experience with the offense, but neither has made a big impact in the passing game during their time here. Edelman has 69 career receptions from Brady, which is 68 more than Slater and Aiken combined, in four seasons with the Patriots. That experience should benefit him in reintegrating into the offense quickly, even if he is behind the curve right now.
“This will be my fifth year here, so the terminology and all of that is kind of my strength right now,” Edelman said on Thursday. “There’s new stuff, and I have a long way to improve, but that definitely helped.”
Edelman caught 21 passes in just nine games during the 2012 season, which, with the departures of Wes Welker (118) and Brandon Lloyd (74), leaves him as the Patriots’ returning leader among wide receivers. Danny Amendola is already viewed as the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver entering the 2013 season, and that doesn’t seem likely to change, but Edelman could establish himself as a viable second or third option with a strong camp.
The 27-year-old should benefit from having developed a strong bond with Brady and earning his trust in some key situations over the past four years. Edelman knows that doesn’t mean jack when it comes to final cuts, which is why he’s working even harder to show how valuable he can be to this offense.
“I mean, Tom Brady’s Tom Brady,” Edelman said of his quarterback. “It’s more of me having to work with what I have to work on. The ball’s going to be there.”
Edelman was limited in practice on Thursday, slowly reintegrating into the swing of things and hoping to be back at full participation by the weekend. He did have one notable play during the day, though, catching a pass from Brady during 7-on-7 drills and proving the strength of his surgically repaired right foot by making a swift cut and beating Jerod Mayo back to the middle of the field to find the end zone for the score.
There is still a ways to go before Edelman can return to his place atop the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart — a reality he’s well aware of — which is why he’s keeping himself grounded and focusing on making small gains in the meantime.
“Right now, ultimately I’m focused on just trying to get out here and catch up with the train,” Edelman said. “The train’s been moving.”
1. Marcus Benard — He continues to eat up the Patriots’ reserve linemen in 1-on-1s. He needs to face some tougher opponents to better gauge his place on this roster.
2. Jamie Collins — He forced two fumbles on the day — one in ball-security drills and another during the Oklahoma drill — and did well in 1-on-1 drills against the offense line. He’s made good progress in camp so far.
3. Justin Francis — He’s mixed in with the first-team defense at times and continues to be rock solid in 1-on-1 drills. He looks quicker than he did in 2012, too.
1. Chris McDonald — One day after his brother Nick is released from the team, the younger McDonald struggled yet again and got beat badly in 1-on-1 drills.
2. Kyle Arrington — After putting together a few strong days at camp, Arrington struggled in individual drills, getting beat by Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce on separate occasions.
3. Ras-I Dowling — He looked alright in practice on Thursday, but he was also seen riding the exercise bike for a time, which brings back bad memories of season’s past.
Photo via Twitter/@SteveB7SFG