FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett spent the entire 2017 season playing catch-up after being traded by the Indianapolis Colts days before the season opener. Now, ironically, his experience gives him a leg up on the competition.
With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola on other teams and Julian Edelman staring down the barrel of a four-game suspension, Dorsett is one of few receivers on the Patriots’ roster with a full season of experience with the playbook. Rookie Braxton Berrios and veterans Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson are in their first seasons with the Patriots, Kenny Britt came to the team last December and Riley McCarron spent most, but not all, of the 2017 season on New England’s practice squad.
Chris Hogan joined the Patriots in 2016, Matthew Slater — drafted by New England in 2008 — is primarily a special teamer, and Malcolm Mitchell was drafted in 2016, but his status and future are up in the air as he continues to deal with a knee injury. Hogan and Slater are locks, and Dorsett is expected to compete with Berrios, Matthews, Patterson, Britt, McCarron and Mitchell for three or four roster spots while Edelman is out.
Dorsett understandably feels much more comfortable now than he did last September when he was thrown to the wolves and expected to learn an entire offense in nine days.
“It feels a lot better. I’m just lightyears past where I was last year when it comes to just knowing the playbook, knowing what to do,” Dorsett said Friday. “I feel comfortable at every position. I still got a lot of work to do when it comes to — this is just Day 2. We got a lot more days to go, but I’m feeling better every day.”
Dorsett has spent considerable time in the slot this summer, which probably shouldn’t come as a major surprise since Amendola is gone and Edelman will miss four games. The Patriots need someone to line up inside to start the season, and it might just be Dorsett. He has primarily played outside during his three-year career, but he has spent time in the slot. He certainly has the requisite agility, posting a 6.70-second 3-cone and 4.03-second short shuttle coming out of Miami in 2015.
“It was something I’ve always known how to do,” Dorsett said. “Certain coaches put you outside because of the speed. They want you to run to get vertical, run vertical because you’re fast, but when you have a whole toolbox when you can go inside and out, it makes you a better player. …
“Obviously to play slot here, you gotta do a little extra work. That’s just what I’ve been trying to do.”
That extra work has included additional time with quarterback Tom Brady in between offensive sessions during training camp. On Friday, Dorsett worked with the Patriots’ quarterbacks, Hogan, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back James White.
“It’s extra work that everybody needs, and I’m just grateful I can get it,” Dorsett said. “Even if I wasn’t able to get pulled aside, I’d do it anyway, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.”
Whether Dorsett winds up spending most of his time inside or out, he knows the more he can do will only help as he claws for a roster spot.
“You’ve gotta show that you can learn, and you can be flexible, not just running a couple of routes,” Dorsett said. “You’ve got to have a full arsenal. If you show that, I feel like they’ll move you around more.”
And as he’s tried to master the intricacies of playing from inside, he’s tried to study the best, including Edelman and Amendola.
Dorsett especially likes Edelman’s “savvy” ability to create separation while facing press coverage.
Dorsett isn’t a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, but his chances of earning a roster spot have only increased as the Patriots have added more to his plate in training camp.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images