FOXBORO, Mass. — While the Patriots’ rookies are the most exciting players to watch at training camp due to their unexpected success, it’s important to understand the starting roles at wide receiver and tight end are still fluid.
One day, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce may get the majority of the first-team reps next to Danny Amendola, while the next day those roles may lean toward Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman. The same is happening at tight end. On Tuesday, Zach Sudfeld was running with the first team for the majority of practice, but in Friday’s preseason game, Jake Ballard received the majority of first-team snaps, with Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells also receiving some reps with Tom Brady.
At this point, it’s far too early to say that one player or another has a lock or even the inside track to a starting role. One day it will look like Fells will be the first-team inline tight end, while another day will say differently. In the game, it appeared Julian Edelman had been buried on the depth chart. But on Tuesday, he was back out with the first team taking passes from Brady.
With three preseason games left, the Patriots will likely take their time to name starters, if starters are even named at all. While Thompkins, Dobson, Boyce, Edelman, Sudfeld, Ballard, Hoomanawanui and Fells have all been impressive, no one other than Sudfeld has really stood out among that group of players. Thompkins has certainly shined at wide receiver, but Bill Belichick isn’t just going to hand over starting roles to two undrafted players based on training camp practices.
That’s why there’s still a rotation at those positions, and while the rotation may dwindle by the time the season starts, the Patriots will likely go into Week 1 in Buffalo with a cast of key contributors at wide receiver and tight end, rather than starters like last season when Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were taking the great majority of the snaps.
It’s exciting to write about how good Thompkins and Sudfeld have been because it was unexpected coming into the season. And it’s less exciting to write that Hoomanwanui is taking a lot of snaps at H-back or that Edelman appears to be creeping back into the first-team offense after missing the spring and beginning of summer practices with a foot injury.
Starters may emerge through the season, but there are so many facets to the offense that it would be unwise for Belichick to determine that Sudfeld is a starter and Thompkins, Boyce and Amendola are the receivers. Other tight ends will play, because they Patriots will need to put an extra blocker in for run plays, and receivers will play as the game plan determines it.
Belichick stressed Wednesday that there is no first team at this point.
“There’s no first team,” Belichick said. “We just, we work a lot of people together in different combinations. There’s no first team, at least none that I’m aware of.”
Belichick was noncommittal whether the team would reduce the rotation of players at wide receiver and tight end by the time the season starts.
“We’re going to play somebody but I don’t know,” Belichick said. “It might be a rotation of people. It might just be the same people out there. I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”
So while it’s fair to note when one player is taking more snaps with the first team than usual, it doesn’t always mean much. That practice could just be that player’s day to work with Brady, rather than Ryan Mallet or Tim Tebow.