Friday night’s preseason matchup between the Patriots and Panthers was a bit of a snooze fest, but one player has reason to hold his head up high after New England’s 25-14 loss to Carolina: wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
Dorsett’s stat line looks a bit meager. He caught just four passes on four targets for 36 yards, but quarterback Tom Brady showed trust in Dorsett at one of the game’s biggest moments.
It also was notable that Dorsett was used in the short-passing game Friday night. Dorsett was targeted 20 times between the regular season and postseason in 2017. Of those 20 targets, 45 percent were deep balls and 65 percent were throws of over 10 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
Dorsett’s first target Friday night came on first and 10 midway through the first quarter. Dorsett caught the ball and immediately went into duck-and-cover mode, hitting the ground. Patriots coaches frequently tell receivers that actually catching the ball is the most important part of their job. Dorsett catching the ball and hitting the turf was reminiscent of Brandon Lloyd in 2012, but it’s an important first step in gaining the trust of Brady. Hold onto the ball, and Brady will probably come back to you.
And he did. Early in the second quarter, Brady hit Dorsett immediately on a screen pass.
— Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson gave Dorsett a large cushion on the line of scrimmage. Dorsett likely will see that a lot this season because of his game-breaking speed. Dorsett showed off that speed and agility by making Jackson miss then turning upfield for a 16-yard catch and run.
Dorsett’s next target came late in the second quarter when he was again covered by Jackson, a rookie out of LSU.
— Dorsett picked up 8 yards on the catch, but we liked that he extended his arms and yanked down an imperfect pass from Brady. Nothing drives quarterbacks crazier than receivers who have to catch passes against their bodies. Dorsett proved he has a bigger catch radius than his small stature might indicate.
Brady trusted Dorsett enough to hit him on fourth-and-3 later in the second quarter.
— Jackson again gave Dorsett a large cushion. Dorsett ran a quick curl and sat down beyond the first-down marker. He once again went into duck-and-cover mode, ensuring he made the catch and moved the chains.
Full disclosure: We don’t think Dorsett had the strongest training camp. He had trouble pulling down contested catches on deep balls and had some issues with his hands in practice. But if Brady decides he likes you, then you’re probably going to be targeted frequently. Brady has praised Dorsett for nearly a year now and showed he likes throwing to the young receiver Friday night.
Patriots starting wide receiver Julian Edelman is out the first four weeks of the season with a suspension, which bumps Dorsett up a notch on the depth chart. Dorsett will be a starter to begin the regular season, and he proved Friday night he can do some of the same things as Edelman in the short-passing game.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images