By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots will open their 2013 Training Camp on Friday with the first practice slated for 9 a.m. on July 26. Here at PatsFans.com we’ll be bringing you a look at the roster by positions and who is competing for each slot and how they fit the system.
We’ve already looked at the running backs , linebackers, defensive ends , safeties, tight ends, defensive tackles , cornerbacks and quarterbacks as many of the positions this summer will be hotly contested. Check in with us daily as we’ll bring you a close look at training camp from the entire staff here.
The Patriots will have a revamped wide receiver corps in 2013 and Julian Edelman remains the veteran with the most experience in the system. (FILE:USPresswire)
Today we’ll be looking at the wide receivers, the players on the roster and how they’ll likely be used by the Patriots and their chances of sticking on the final 53.
Have You Heard That…- Unless you’ve been on a trip to Timbuktu or someplace else close to it lately, you’ve probably been bombarded with the fact the Patriots have had a complete roster turnover at the receiver position and that 75 percent of the production from last year won’t be on the field once training camp starts. The sky is definitely falling in Foxboro, sound familiar?
It is true that they have had tremendous roster turnover on offense, especially with players who catch the ball from Brady. Some of them (Rob Gronkowski) will return at some point during the season, while others who were lost, (Aaron Hernandez) were a complete shock to the coaches and organization. And finally others (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch) who simply were let go and not really wanted back.
One thing that is a big issue for training camp and one that needs to be worked out, is determining who is going to step up and become an integral part of the offense and most importantly find that trust level with Brady. While it would be foolish to say that this is not anything to be concerned about, something to keep in mind is that, other than Hernandez, the team was prepared for and in fact moved on from the rest of the players gone.
Going To Take Time To Gel- Needless to say it is going to take some time for so many of the younger players, especially the rookies, to not only learn the offense but catch on with the different option routes. Another challenge may also be getting comfortable grasping a big weapon the Patriots have utilized, which is New England’s no-huddle, hurry-up offense. That may be an area that could indeed suffer in the early going of camp and the season.
The plan was to get younger and bring in fresh faces into the offense, and only three players (Julain Edelman, Matthew Slater and Kamar Aiken) return from 2012. Three others (Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Lavelle Hawkins) are veteran free agent additions. The remaining six are either draft picks or undrafted rookie free agents.
And the competition will be wide open for roster slots, other than Amendola and Slater who are locks and draft picks Dobson and Boyce who are close to that, no one is guaranteed anything other than a shot to show what they can do. Slater is a wide receiver in name only; he’s a special teams captain and rarely gets snaps at wide receiver. It’s a crowded position and snaps will have to be earned.
Roster Breakdown- Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Michael Jenkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Matthew Slater, Kenbrell Thompkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Kamar Aiken, Mark Harrison, Quentin Sims, Perez Ashford
Has Belichick Lost His Mind?- That is a comment heard quite frequently this off-season as many have questioned the logic of the Patriots to re-do the wide receiver position. But other than Hernandez who we mentioned (as did Belichick in his press conference) was a shock, what do they actually have to replace?
Production at the wide receiver position last season was Welker with 118 receptions, Lloyd with 74, Edelman with 21 and Branch with 16.
Welker and his 100 catches per year will be a hard act to follow. Amendola can’t be reasonably expected to do that. However Amendola, the team’s prized signing during free agency, is talented and his production prior to coming to New England was very similar to Welker’s when he was in Miami.
The only drawback to Amendola is one of health; he’s had trouble staying on the field. He needs to stay healthy this year and if he’s able to overcome his injury-riddled past, he should have no problem with catching 80-85 passes from Tom Brady.
Number crunching- So without getting into the chemistry factor, especially with Welker and Hernandez, if Amendola can get close to the production we project, the biggest question would be can Dobson and Boyce together replace Brandon Lloyd’s 74 receptions?
I think they could do that and in fact bring more to the table than Lloyd did, although his numbers overall were good last year, for the most part, I’d say his was a disappointing 2012. He didn’t bring the element of stretching the field that the team had hoped for and his attitude and locker room fit made it easy for him to be replaced.
Lloyd also had a very annoying tendency to go down prior to being hit when crossing the middle of the field. That part of his game will not be missed.
Branch had definitely lost a step in 2012 and although he still had good chemistry with Brady, he only chipped in with 16 receptions.
Roster Projection- With the players New England currently has on the roster, here’s a look at who may be still standing at the end of training camp:
Danny Amendola- He’s already penciled in as Brady’s go-to guy. He’s sneaky fast with good hands, and he’s not afraid to go over the middle. He has better deep ball capability than Welker did and may occasionally get the homerun ball.
Aaron Dobson- Has the size and makeup to be the pro-typical “X” wide receiver. He’s 6’3 with excellent hands, good speed but without the burner extra gear. He can be a tremendous red-zone target. Can he do it as a rookie? We’ll see…
Josh Boyce- Boyce has tremendous upside and when all is said and done may have a higher ceiling than Dobson. But he’s been on the shelf all spring with a broken bone in his foot. He can play the “Z” wide receiver or out of the slot. He’s also very fast, running a 4.38 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine with the said broken bone in his foot.
Julian Edelman- Edelman is now the most experienced receiver on the team to work with Brady. He was coming into his own last season before an injury wiped out what could have been a very productive 2nd half of 2012. He remains an excellent punt returner. His biggest question is can he stay healthy enough to stay productive for an entire season.
Michael Jenkins- “Cement foot Mike” ? Yes, he’s a veteran and has been a productive one. However, The big question will be can he replicate the role Deion Branch enjoyed with Brady as a chain mover and a guy who can get open underneath?
Mark Harrison- Another Rutgers alum, Harrison has the kind of physical qualities that teams drool over. Big, 6’3, 235 he’s a very fast, big, physical receiver with good hands and a ton of upside. He could be an answer to the “Joker” TE/WR hybrid slot that Hernandez excelled in.
Matthew Slater- As mentioned previously, Slater is a wide receiver in name only. He’s a special teams captain and invaluable in that role. He most probably won’t catch a pass this season but is a lock to make the roster.
The Patriots have a revamped wide receiver corps but the situation isn’t as dire as some people are making it out to be. They’ve added a lot of youth, size and speed. It just all needs to come together.
The wild card in this is Tom Brady, the best of the best; he has done more with less in other seasons. He’s the “Great Equalizer” and this group, after some growing pains, has the potential to be good….very good. Ignore the noise and see you at training camp.