FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots found unprecedented success out of three rookie wide receivers in 2013, though it wasn’t always pretty.
Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce combined for 78 receptions for 1,106 yards with eight touchdowns last season. While some of that production was purely out of necessity, since quarterback Tom Brady had no one else to target, those shaky, inexperienced reps could help them as they try to make the jump in Year 2.
Unfortunately for the three young receivers, the Patriots’ offense always is changing, so they still might face an uphill battle to expand their game and improve in 2014.
“Every year we put new things in,” Thompkins said Friday at Gillette Stadium. “Every year is a learning curve, but I feel a little bit better knowing the guys and some of the plays we did last year. Now we’re trying to build on the execution of them and build on what we did wrong last year.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels already can see an improvement from Thompkins and Boyce. Dobson has missed organized team activities after undergoing foot surgery in the offseason.
“They’re not rookies,” McDaniels said. “You can see that right away. We’re watching the tape, some of the cut ups we watch are from last year when they were rookies. You see some of the mistakes we make that are great mistakes to make because as a coach you see a guy make a mistake, and that’s your opportunity to fix it and make them a better player. Now we’re not in stage one anymore. Those guys have hit the ground running. They’re in good shape, which is really exciting for us. We’re out here running, we don’t stop for a couple hours, and those guys don’t ask to come out. They don’t need to come out. Their minds have slowed down. They can process a lot of information. We can count on them to do things after the snap. It’ll be exciting to see how far we can go with them.”
Dobson had the most productive season of any Patriots rookie wide receiver in the Bill Belichick era, and Thompkins trailed just Dobson and Deion Branch’s 2002 season. Patriots second-year receivers have had trouble making the leap in Year 2 in the past, but at least Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce have something — including last year’s mistakes — to build upon.
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are expected to hold down two starting spots in the Patriots’ three-receiver offense, while Thompkins, Dobson, Boyce, Brandon LaFell and the rest of the Patriots’ receivers will compete for the third role.