FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots wide receivers are locked in a highly contested battle for depth chart slots and roster spots.
Isn’t it obvious?
The mantra around Gillette Stadium is everyone’s always “just trying to get better” — individually and as a team. Sometimes the rhetoric seems to ring hollow, like when a player cops out of a question he doesn’t want to answer for fear of upsetting head coach Bill Belichick.
Yet it appears Patriots players buy in to Belichick’s maxims — like “Do Your Job” or “on to (blank)” — more often than not, even at the detriment of personal gain.
Take the wide receiver competition, for example. There are only so many roster spots granted to one position, and there currently are 10 wideouts on the Patriots’ roster. The Patriots have finished the last six seasons with an average of 5 1/2 wideouts on their roster. That means four or five receivers likely won’t be on the Patriots’ 53-man roster for Week 1.
Despite this fact, the Patriots’ wideouts are happy to help one another figure out the intricacies of their team’s complex offense because it makes the team better while at the same time making roster competition that much tighter.
“I mean, we all go at each other,” Brian Tyms said Wednesday after minicamp. “We all hold each other to a really high standard. We all help each other out, and we feel as though everybody can make a play, so we really don’t care who gets the ball as long you get it and make something happen with it.”
Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Matthew Slater are near locks to make the Patriots’ 2015 roster, which leaves just one or two spots available for Tyms, Aaron Dobson, Brandon Gibson, Josh Boyce, Jonathan Krause and Chris Harper. Dobson caught 37 passes for 519 yards with four touchdowns in 2013, but he was passed on the depth chart by Tyms in 2014 at least partially because of an injured foot that slowed his progress and limited his mobility.
Gibson signed a one-year contract with New England this season after serving as the Miami Dolphins’ No. 4 receiver in 2014. Boyce and Krause were members of the Patriots’ practice squad last season, while Harper was signed as an undrafted free agent over the offseason.
The Patriots showed at least some degree of confidence in their current receivers by electing not to sign a top free agent or draft a player at the position, despite showing interest in Percy Harvin, Stevie Johnson and many prospects.
“It’s competition every day,” Dobson said Wednesday. “There’s no hard feelings because we’re all friends off the field, we all get along, but out here it’s competition, and we’re having fun.”
Both Tyms, who caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown last season, and Dobson, who caught three passes for 38 yards, should be a step ahead of where they were last year.
Tyms signed with the Patriots during training camp, which means he didn’t have the benefit of a full offseason.
“It’s tremendous, because last year I came in, I was just catching on as I went,” Tyms said. “Now I actually know the stuff, so you start actually paying attention to more details, more things that have to do with route depth and certain situations. It’s big.”
Dobson also didn’t get to experience all the rewards of a “second-year jump” because the foot injury kept him out until training camp.
“It definitely feels better being out here on the field,” Dobson said. “You can’t substitute that at all. Being out here is definitely a good thing; I get the reps, and I get to be out here on the field, get to take the physical reps, so it’s definitely a good feeling being out here.”
The Patriots have to hope at least one player emerges from that group over the next season. Amendola restructured his contract this offseason, which makes it increasingly unlikely he’ll be back in 2016. Tyms and Dobson might not only be battling for this year’s No. 4 role, but the No. 3 spot of the future.
Thumbnail photos via Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports Images