Most job interviews are supposed to be every-man-for-himself affairs. The Patriots’ wide receivers are taking a different approach to their competition this summer.
With, realistically, eight guys battling for what will likely amount to six roster spots at receiver, you’d expect veterans like Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins and Kamar Aiken to exhibit a more selfish attitude. Yet they continue to lend a helping hand to some of the same guys who could very well take their jobs.
Both Jenkins and Aiken have been seen chatting up some of the younger receivers like Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins at times during training camp. Those conversations don’t often look like too much from the outside, but apparently they’re more involved than we know.
Dobson and Boyce have both mentioned the veterans as something of a fountain of knowledge in their development this summer, and the guidance seems to be working for them, too. Both draftees, as well as the undrafted Thompkins, have enjoyed a serious breakout thus far in camp and seem to be well ahead of any rookie receiver to hit the Patriots’ system in over a decade — go ahead and reminisce back to when Deion Branch and David Givens were rookies.
“It’s great working with those guys,” Jenkins said during a recent practice. “Nobody has a big head, everybody comes in ready to work, ready to listen. We all talk to each other — what we see on the field and just trying to help everybody out. It’s a fun group to be around right now.”
Jenkins has been especially helpful to Dobson during the last few months. The two have very similar body types, making Jenkins (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) a perfect mentor for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound rookie. The 31-year-old Jenkins also has nine seasons of NFL experience to bestow upon the young lad, and he’s been impressed with how much of that knowledge Dobson is trying to soak up.
“He’s a smart guy [and] athletic, so anything that I see that could probably help him with something the next time around [I tell him],” Jenkins said. “I just try to give him my two cents every now and then. He takes it and he uses it. He does a good job of trying to use all of his tools. So, it’s good to see.”
Jenkins knows that he may well be grooming his replacement, even as he fights to make the final 53-man roster, but being a leader is just part of his DNA. Even as he embraces that leadership role, Jenkins has been impressed with the leadership of some other veterans, namely Edelman, as well.
“Julian, even though he was out for a good amount of time, he was always talking to the guys [and] always helping them with things that he saw on film,” Jenkins said. “So, it’s great having those guys around helping us out.”
Edelman has been a mainstay in the Patriots’ offense for going on five seasons now. He is the most veteran receiver on the roster and, now that he’s fully healthy, is expected to make a push for some serious playing time. While he’s made considerable contributions on the field in the past, Edelman’s apparent leadership is something of a revelation.
Aiken has noted veterans like Jenkins and Edelman displaying such leadership during the offseason, and the 24-year-old “veteran” is following their lead. For him, though, it all comes back to developing a cohesive environment among the receivers.
“We communicate real good,” Aiken said recently. “I think as far as a group — well our group really wasn’t that bad where I was at before — this group, as far as everybody together, this group is pretty much together. There’s not any cliques, I guess you’d call it, there’s no group here or group there. Everybody gets along with each other, and I can say that’s big with this group. Even if somebody’s down, we just try to pick them up. Even though we know it’s a competition, we still try to help each other out.”
Aiken was a star among the receivers this spring, showing off a unique combination of size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and reliable hands that weren’t necessarily expected when he first signed with the Patriots last November. He’s stumbled a bit through the first few weeks of camp, but he’s still in the thick of the competition — one that he says shouldn’t affect the relationships the receivers have built.
“At the end of the day you’ve got a job. Do your job,” Aiken said, echoing the famous words of Bill Belichick. “Your friendship is your friendship. You doing your job shouldn’t hurt your friendship. If everybody does their job then you make the decision harder on the coaches. So, your friendship will still be intact.”
The final receiver slot on the roster could ultimately come down to a mix of Aiken, Edelman and Jenkins, which would make for an interesting storyline come cut day (Sept. 1). For now, though, they’ll stay focused on not only improving themselves but also the guys who may well put them out of work — and in Jenkins case, maybe for good.