By: Steve Balestrieri
Nearly all of the mistakes that are being made right now by the Patriots rookie receivers are correctable and the rookies are simply going to have to work through them. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
The ugly nature of the Patriots win on Thursday night showcased the difficulty of integrating wide receivers in the offenses of the NFL.
For the second straight week, the Patriots rookies struggled; Aaron Dobson had four drops and was late turning his head around on another. And he wasn’t alone, as there were plenty of lapses in communication, running wrong routes and some fundamental mistakes.
And now Patriots fans are clamoring for changes to be made and veterans to be brought in to right the ship which would be a mistake at this early juncture. Nearly all of the mistakes that are being made right now are correctable and the rookies are going to have to work through them.
Aaron Dobson has played exactly one game in the NFL; Kenbrell Thompkins has played in two. It is much too early to pull the plug on these young players. And these players need to keep plugging away with their QB until their confidence builds up. And bringing in veterans will take reps and valuable playing experience from the younger players.
Condensed Time Frame: It all starts with Tom Brady, whose frustration boiled over too many times on Thursday night. While the game wasn’t pretty on the eyes, Brady has to reign in his temper and help ease the young players’ transition to the complex offense of the Patriots.
Brady is known as a demanding leader who demands more of himself than anyone else. No one is suggesting that he change that, but by his own admission the Patriots offense takes years to master, these rookies are trying to do it in 2 months.
Two years ago, Brady stated, “It takes two years, three years. The best receiver that I played with as a rookie was Deion Branch. He was really a third, fourth receiver his rookie year. I could tell that he was going to be an exceptional talent, but he didn’t contribute the same way that he did in his third or fourth year.”
Branch caught 43 passes for 489 yards and 2 touchdowns in his rookie campaign of 2002.
Obviously these players don’t have the luxury of that kind of timeframe and are feeling the pinch of pressure right now. Dobson and Thompkins are pressing a little bit now and that will invariably lead to drops. The more practice and practical game experience they get, the easier it will get for them.
Perhaps the Patriots can simplify some of their route trees until the players can master part of the play book and add more at a later time. But by blowing up, Brady isn’t helping them, the team or himself.
Veteran Help Out There: There aren’t many veteran wideouts available that are familiar with the Patriots system. Donte’ Stallworth and Deion Branch are too familiar names that keep getting mentioned. But truthfully Branch seemed done at the end of last season. Stallworth was in training camp for the Redskins this summer but was cut.
Another name that keeps resurfacing is Brandon Lloyd, who has stated that he’s not physically or mentally prepared to play football this season. While Lloyd had good numbers in 2012, he benefitted from playing opposite of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But Brady’s completion percentage on plays to Lloyd was only 57 percent, and that was with those three players.
As for Lloyd being a deep threat? Think twice about that, on deep balls last season, Brady completed only 8 of 36 throwing to Lloyd. Those stats are courtesy of our site’s stats page on PatsFans.com.
I don’t think they bring in any veterans for now, and you can look at Bill Belichick’s history as a guide. When Tom Brady went down in 2008, Belichick stuck with Matt Cassel even though he had a horrible preseason where many forecasted his being released. They did due diligence, and worked out other QBs but the team stuck be Cassel.
Drafting WRs Inexact Science: The Patriots and specifically Bill Belichick has been targeted on numerous occasions of being poor at drafting and developing wide receivers. And to an extent that is true.
The team’s philosophy has been to bring in veteran wideouts and for the most part eschew the draft because it does take time to develop talent and the miss percentage for wide receivers is high.
Other than Branch and David Givens, the Patriots haven’t drafted any WRs in the Bill Belichick era who have had any major impact. Possibly Julian Edelman, but he was a college QB. Instead the team has traded draft picks for veterans or used free agency, as in the case of Welker and Randy Moss. And even in that regard, the Patriots offense has made other established veterans look lost, as were Joey Galloway, Torrey Holt and Chad Johnson.
The Patriots are far from alone in that regard, look at all the misses that the Detroit Lions have suffered at the WR position and since their move from Cleveland in 1996, the Ravens have had only two WRs of the 20 receivers selected in the draft, Jermaine Lewis (1996) and Torrey Smith (2011), have any significant impact on the field.
Patience and Practice Needed: The team has 10 days before they take the field again against the Buccaneers in Foxboro. The best case scenario for the team at this time is to keep plugging away with the rookie wide receivers. A two game window is much too short to hit the panic button. If the rookies are still making too many of the same mistakes by the Cincinnati or New Orleans games, then other options should be explored.
Hopefully soon Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amedola and Zach Sudfeld will all return from injuries and in the case of Gronkowski and Sudfeld, will open up the middle of the field from the tight end position and allow for more single coverage outside and room to run.
Amendola has already proven himself to have earned the trust of Brady and his presence along with Gronkowski will go a long way in righting the ship. Later down the road getting Shane Vereen back will open up even more options out of the backfield.
Former Patriot great Troy Brown said there are two parts of being a wide receiver the other night after the game. Getting open and catching the football, we’ve seen them do both and struggle at both so far after two games. At this point it seems to be more a question of nerves than anything else. And coaching and experience will help that.
Everyone knew there would be bumps in the road with bringing in all these rookie wide receivers, granted nobody foresaw them struggling this badly after a very impressive summer. But the team needs to stay the course….for now.