FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots fans got to watch a tight end maraud over, around and through an opposing secondary Thursday night — and Rob Gronkowski wasn’t even playing.
Undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister played the role of Gronk Light in his first game as a Patriot, catching seven passes on nine targets for 116 yards in New England’s preseason-opening 31-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium.
“I definitely was having butterflies,” said Hollister, who led the team in both catches and receiving yards. “But after getting through the first couple of plays, I started getting into a rhythm and started feeling good.”
Any butterflies Hollister might have had were forcibly knocked out of him on his first reception of the game. During the second quarter, the Wyoming product elevated to catch a pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and was hammered by Jaguars safety Jarrod Wilson.
On his next grab, he was walloped just inside Jacksonville’s 20-yard line by linebacker Blair Brown, who sent Hollister’s helmet flying and was slapped with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct for his troubles. Three plays later, Garoppolo found wide receiver Austin Carr for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the preseason.
“I think I needed those couple of hits to get me going — those first big hits of the year,” Hollister said. “I got riled up a couple of times, but no big deal.”
Hollister went on to catch passes of 38, 19, 18 and 15 yards in the second half. On his 18-yarder, Hollister successfully hurdled a Jaguars defender, then had an extra 15 yards tacked on after the tackler was flagged for hitting with the crown of his helmet. (This kid took a serious beating in his first taste of NFL action.)
“I don’t know how it happened,” Hollister said of his hurdle. “I saw him come in, and I think it was a corner, so I knew he would probably go low. So I ended up jumping, and luckily I made it over him.”
Hollister is one of four Patriots tight ends battling for the third spot on the depth chart behind starter Gronkowski and backup Dwayne Allen, and he easily was the best of the bunch Thursday night. Matt Lengel and James O’Shaughnessy did not play (nor did Gronk and Allen), and Sam Cotton was targeted just twice and caught one pass.
“I think one of the most important things is just getting trust from your quarterbacks,” Hollister said, “and trying to make it obvious to those guys that you can make plays and that they can feel comfortable throwing to you. But it’s really just doing what I can for the team every day and showing all my teammates that I can be trustworthy for them.”
Will Hollister be the next great Patriots tight end? Or will he be the next Zach Sudfeld? Only time will tell. But he sure made a strong first impression.
“I’ve always been more of a versatile guy where I kind of just do whatever I need to do,” Hollister said. “So that’s really my plan going into it: Just do whatever I can for the team to win ballgames.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images