FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots’ rookie wide receivers have made the most of their opportunities this preseason, and Tom Brady has taken notice.
Brady’s passing attack underwent a massive renovation this offseason as old reliables like Wes Welker, Deion Branch and even Danny Woodhead were jettisoned in favor of a bunch of fresh, young 20-somethings looking to establish themselves. The offensive overhaul seemed like a daunting task, even for the NFL’s No. 1-rated offense in 2012, just a few months ago, but the young receivers have taken the challenge as an opportunity to prove themselves — and Brady’s been impressed with the results.
“They’ve got a lot of opportunity, that’s the thing,” Brady said after practice on Monday. “The more opportunity, the better you get. They had a lot of opportunity the other night [against the Buccaneers], KT (Kenbrell Thompkins) and Aaron [Dobson] and Josh [Boyce] at the receiver position, with Danny [Amendola], what Julian [Edelman]’s been able to do coming back from his injury, and [Zach] Sudfeld, he’s had a lot of opportunity. Guys are trying to make the most of it, find their role, and as you see on a daily basis, guys that keep making plays keep making plays. You love seeing that.”
Thompkins was the one making plays during the first preseason game, catching four passes for 27 yards from Brady against the Eagles. Last week, it was Amendola getting the opportunities, hauling in six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Bucs before he and Brady closed up shop for the night. This week, Brady could be looking for Dobson, Boyce or even Sudfeld to be the go-to guy against the Lions. He seems to believe that each of them has the talent to make such an impact; now he’s trying to figure out if they can do it consistently.
“Sure, I think all of them are talented, and in the NFL you have to be talented to make plays on a consistent basis. It’s more of the consistency and the dependability,” Brady said. “Anybody can go out and make one good play, but if you go out and make a bad play after that, I mean you can’t win football games that way. You’ve got to do it day in and day out, week in week out, and that’s how you get to be a good team. That’s how you get to be a really good player and you contribute. But the dependability and the more dependable guys you can have the better your team is going to be.”
Brady knows what he’s going to get from Edelman, Matthew Slater and even Amendola at this point, but he’s still trying to get that same consistency from the rookies. Thompkins and Sudfeld have proven the most among the rookies thus far, showing reliable hands during practices and earning enough of Brady’s trust to see extended reps in games.
Meanwhile, the team’s two rookie draft picks, Dobson (second round) and Boyce (fourth), have plateaued a bit of late, losing snaps out to Thompkins and Edelman during last week’s game. The diminished playing time isn’t a result of effort, though, as Brady seemed more than happy with the work ethic from all the rookies.
“They’ve worked their butts off to get to this point,” Brady said. “I’m not the talent evaluator or scout or anything like that, I just love having them as teammates and have been impressed with their work ethic. Any time I ask them to stay after and throw and to work and talk about routes, that’s what we do. So they still want to learn, they still want to get better. Hopefully they want to do that for a real long time.”
Each rookie is bound to undergo some growing pains this season, whether large or small. Dobson and Boyce, who obviously have the highest expectations given their draft statuses, have endured their struggles a bit earlier than the others, but that doesn’t mean they won’t rebound. The work and effort are clearly there, and Brady has already taken note. Now, it’s a matter of showing it out on the field.