FOXBORO, Mass. — It would be difficult not to notice Kenbrell Thompkins during the first two days of New England Patriots training camp. With fellow second-year wide receiver Aaron Dobson out with a foot injury, Thompkins has been the de facto “X” receiver — and played like a starter.
Thompkins looked similarly impressive last spring and summer, however, to the point that he started being drafted in the middle rounds of late-August fantasy football drafts because of the hype he had generated. Patriots beat writers, myself included, were fooled into thinking that performance on a practice field could translate into success in the regular season, but Thompkins produced spotty results once the season got into full swing.
Writers can be easy to fool, but Thompkins seems to have convinced two very important people within the Patriots organization — his head coach, Bill Belichick, and his starting quarterback, Tom Brady — that what we’re seeing on the practice field is for real
“Hard-working kid, one of our hardest workers,” Belichick said Friday at Gillette Stadium before the Patriots’ second training camp session. “He really tries hard to do everything right. Very attentive, very coachable and he’s very hard working.”
Brady appeared to lack confidence in Thompkins, Dobson and wide receiver Josh Boyce last season, instead electing to throw to receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen when they were open and healthy.
Apparently “KT” has earned Brady’s trust after an excellent spring of organized team activities and minicamp practices.
“Yeah, he made some great plays,” Brady said Thursday after training camp. “I think he’s certainly capable of it. It’s exciting for a quarterback when you see a guy make those types of efforts and lay out and catch the ball like he did. He’s been doing that since he got here, and he’s another guy who’s put a lot of work in and fought really hard.
“It’s fun to be out there with him. I have a lot of confidence in him, a lot of trust. He’s a great guy. It’s fun to be out there with him.”
Thompkins has seen increased opportunities with Brady while Dobson mends and free-agent signee Brandon LaFell learns the offense. Thompkins has made his reps count with spectacular catches, strong hands and even a touchdown over cornerback Darrelle Revis on Friday.
Thompkins is taking the praise from his QB and head coach and his impressive play in stride, however. Thompkins made the Patriots as an undrafted rookie, but his roster spot isn’t guaranteed going into the 2014 season.
“It’s Day 2. We got a long way to go,” Thompkins said. “Still got a lot of work to do. Just coming out here to do my job, compete each and every day and leave it all on the field.
Thompkins looks improved so far, but the Patriots have yet to strap on the pads. His next test comes Saturday when the Patriots have their first full-contact practice. If Thompkins still has success over Revis, it’s time to take his stellar summer seriously.