FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots did a nice job of avoiding catastrophic injuries during the summer, but some nagging ailments have created holes in the depth chart on offense.
It’s unlikely Danny Amendola suits up on Thursday night when the Jets come to town due to a reaggravated groin injury. Zach Sudfeld may not be a go after tweaking his hamstring against the Bills and Shane Vereen is out after suffering a broken wrist. The Patriots have plenty of veteran bodies to cover Vereen’s snaps at running back, but Tom Brady will have to rely on his rookie wide receivers heavily in just their second career game if Amendola can’t go.
After an excellent summer, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce showed some rookie jitters in their first real action. It’s to be expected out of first-year players, but those nerves were magnified since Brady didn’t have many other options to throw to.
The All-Pro signal caller relied on Amendola, Vereen and Julian Edelman down the stretch. After receiving 14 targets in the first 44 minutes of the game, Thompkins didn’t get a single pass from Brady in the final drive when the Patriots needed to move the ball most. Thompkins was single covered with all of Buffalo’s defense focusing on Brady’s other three options.
It appeared to be a mixture of nerves, the game moving faster and a ramped up intensity in playcalling that threw off Thompkins. He and Brady were not on the same page on multiple plays as the Patriots trusted Thompkins to run complex option routes in his first pro game.
Thompkins wound up catching four passes for 42 yards. He had a Brandon Lloyd-esque four yards after catch and fell to the ground on nearly every one of his 14 targets. Thompkins had a few glaring mistakes relating to his position on the field while running his routes and would stop moving his feet after Brady let go of the ball, choosing to stretch for the ball instead on multiple occasions.
Now that Thompkins has seen everything that he shouldn’t be doing out on the field, he can correct those mistakes before the Jets game. Thompkins had one bad practice during all of training camp. It came on the first Monday of the summer when the players were playing under the stars in Gillette Stadium. He had multiple drops and appeared to have some miscommunication with Brady.
He bounced back and had an exceptional rest of the summer. During the preseason, when he would drop a pass, he would come right back and catch the next string of targets. Thompkins has rebounded well in the past. If his rookie mistakes aren’t too big to overcome, and as long as Brady still has trust in his new No. 85, Thompkins can step up when his name is called on Thursday night. There’s a good chance he’ll be asked to start again.
Boyce didn’t have nearly as many opportunities to struggle as Thompkins did, since he received just 14 snaps and two targets in his first game. He was the first receiver out on the field when the Patriots went three wide, but he was quickly overtaken by Edelman, who received 84 snaps and nine targets.
Boyce’s lack of reps show there may be a lack of trust from Brady, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. Everyone knew it was difficult to come into this offense as a rookie and succeed right away. Thompkins and Boyce proved that in their first game. The rookie out of TCU didn’t seem too concerned, though.
“It went good,” Boyce said. “I’m just glad we got the win, honestly. You always work on little things.”
But it’s important that they’ll keep getting reps, since there are no other players to take those snaps on offense. Aaron Dobson told Nick Underhill of MassLive.com that he’s expecting to play on Thursday, and he may have to with so many players injured. But the second-rounder looked like the weakest link of the New England rookies the summer.
If the Patriots are going to beat the Jets, one of those rookies has to step up. It’s not even that they have to have a big game. One of them just has to be on the field and give Brady confidence to throw the ball in his direction. Once again, Boyce didn’t seem too worried.
“Nah, when your name’s called just step up and make the plays,” Boyce said. “When coach calls your name just go out there and do what you got to do.”
Last week Brady relied on Amendola, Edelman and Vereen. This week, two more players will need to step up to line up across from Edelman.