FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots have missed their big-play receiver lately.
Kenbrell Thompkins has come a long way in his 16 weeks with the New England Patriots, but in order to stay healthy and rack up more yards, the young wide receiver may need to figure out a balance between going all out, but losing body control and staying healthy.
Thompkins has a flair for the dramatic. The rookie has been targeted 70 times this season, and he has left the ground on 41 of those attempts from quarterback Tom Brady, either by diving, jumping or falling to make the grab. On some targets, Thompkins will give a little hop when attempting to make the catch.
“Sometimes it’s just instinctive,” Thompkins said. “Sometimes my body jumps when I don’t even tell it to jump. It’s just a reaction.”
Thompkins injured his hip against the Houston Texans by leaping to make a grab. Thompkins appeared to lose control of his body and landed awkwardly on his side. It was obvious he was in pain after the catch, but he stayed in for one more play, was targeted and limped off the field.
“As a wide receiver, my job is to get open and catch the ball, wherever the quarterback put it, it’s my job to get there,” Thompkins said Friday. “Sometimes, the nature of football, sometimes your body just tends to react sometimes. I think that’s kind of what happened on that play back in Houston. That’s part of the game. Injuries happen and it’s our job to recover and trust the trainers to get us back out there.”
The injury has cost him three weeks now, and the Patriots could use him. Thompkins said coaches preach playing under control in practice, but in games, he only knows one speed.
“Coaches, they want us to practice under control at all times,” Thompkins said. “Being a wide receiver, it’s kinda hard to actually play conservative, play nonchalant. When the ball’s in the air, it’s our job to go get it. Unfortunately, we may have some awkward falls. Defensive backs will do the same thing. They preach every day to know how to practice and practice under control. They don’t want nobody out on the ground when we’re practicing and all of that. I think that’s definitely something they do preach a lot. But under them lights, man, when it’s game time, you got a lot of adrenaline going, and you just want to go out there and play football.”
New England is 2-1 in games since Thompkins went down, and Brady missed having a bigger target in the fourth quarter in the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins. Fellow rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce were also injured, so Brady was left with just Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Austin Collie to target in the red zone. Brady could not hook up with any of them on multiple throws into the end zone from the 14-yard line and the Patriots lost.
Thompkins could be returning Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills, though. The Cincinnati product sounds like he’s getting ready to play against the Bills, but even he may not know head coach Bill Belichick‘s plans.
“I’m feeling pretty good, man,” Thompkins said. “I’m feeling pretty good. The trainers, they’re doing a great job. I’m doing what I can do. I’m doing what they’re allowing me to do. Overall I’m feeling a lot better and I’m getting better each and every day.”
Thompkins has made strides throughout the first 16 weeks of the season, including the three he has missed with injuries. Playing the Bills in Week 1 and Week 17 has allowed Thompkins to see just how much things have changed since his NFL debut.
“Yeah, I’ve been watching [the Week 1 tape] all this week and I look super small, I look super skinny,” Thompkins said smiling. “It definitely was a learning experience. It was my first game. Mistakes [were] made, but it was my job to correct them and going out there and practicing this week and everything, not much changed. Just going out there and be competitive. Over the course from that first game when we played Buffalo to this week playing Buffalo, I think I definitely took my game up a notch.”
No one would ever question Thompkins’ dedication to the Patriots. He’s giving is all and sacrificing his body on every catch. And sometimes diving and jumping for the ball is a necessity, like his game-winner against the Saints, but there are also throws when it seems the rookie does not need to jump and he’s sacrificing his body unnecessarily. Those are the plays when Thompkins may need to replicate what coaches are preaching in practice.