By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Every single year, there are people who fall into the same trap with the New England Patriots. On offense, they want the most talented players possible. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting talented players.
But Tom Brady and the Patriots have proven for well over a decade that pure talent isn’t as important as other, more intangible qualities. Like adaptation and chemistry. The talent discussion heated up over the course of 2018 training camp, because there’s a relative lack of it at the wide receiver position. Still, Brady understands that the team can’t just bring in the shiniest toys on the market and always make it work. Those same players need to get on the same page with No. 12, or it won’t matter how fast or skilled you are.
When asked whether new receivers need to learn more about him or vice versa, Brady was predictably diplomatic about it. But that doesn’t make his answer any less true.
“You know, I think it’s both,” Brady told reporters after Tuesday’s practice in Foxboro. “It’s just adapting to each other, I think that’s the key. You know, certainly have expectations for players at certain positions and if it’s a receiver position, you try to show him as much film as you can and say, ‘Look this is how it’s got to be’ and so forth. You know, it’s up to the different guys to figure out how quickly they can pick it up.”
In a perfect world, players come along with a combination of elite talent and successful adaptation to Brady and the system. When that happens, you get a Rob Gronkowski or Randy Moss. But players like that simply aren’t going to come around often. Brady is so great that he can take smart, adaptable players and help them overcome a perceived lack of talent relative to others.
It’s why you’re never going to see a player like Dez Bryant put on a Patriots uniform, and it’s a waste of time to call for it. It’s at least partially why talented veterans like Reggie Wayne, Joey Galloway, and Chad Ochocinco couldn’t hack it when given a chance at late-career surges.
It’s also why Brady and Bill Belichick prefer players like James White over someone who may be bigger or faster or more dynamic, but wouldn’t necessarily be able to gel with Brady like No. 28 did. White has never amazed with his physical tools, but he’s been as dependable as any receiving back the Patriots have ever had under Belichick and Brady. And it’s why he may see a career-high in targets in the upcoming season.
In addition, it’s why a veteran name like Eric Decker is far from a lock to make the 53-man roster and is locked in to a battle for the bottom of the depth chart, along with guys like rookie Braxton Berrios and second-year former practice squad receiver Riley McCarron. It’s McCarron who’s been getting the occasional rep with Brady and the first-team offense ahead of the former two; he even subbed in for Phillip Dorsett after he momentarily appeared to suffer an injury late in Tuesday’s practice.
Oh, and about Dorsett: he’s another wideout who has yet to live up to his first-round pedigree, and hasn’t wowed anyone with any skill, aside from perhaps his top-end speed deep down the field. He’s seen a ton of looks in deep post throws from Brady, and while he hasn’t been the most consistent holding onto the ball, the more important thing is that he’s gaining Brady’s trust. Dorsett may not be an ideal No. 1 or 2 receiver, but he’s likely to see those kinds of targets early in the season.
And as long as Brady is sharp, Dorsett is going to have chances to make big plays. Brady certainly sees the potential.
“Hopefully he’s okay and I certainly hope he is,” Brady said of Dorsett. “He’s got a great opportunity ahead of him. I hope he takes advantage of it.”
Conversely, you can see the exact opposite kind of development with Cordarrelle Patterson. He’s likely to make the team as a kick returner, but after some early flashes in practice, Patterson has dropped off as a receiver. There’s no doubting Patterson’s size, speed, and nifty hands. But his ability to pick up the offense is what has held him back in offenses over the course of his career, and it’s looking like the same thing is playing out this summer.
That doesn’t mean that Brady and the offense won’t eventually figure it out. There could just be a slow start as the team finds the group of guys they can trust. It hasn’t been perfect, hence Brady’s frustration on Monday that culminated with a punt into the stands.
But as long as Brady continues to play at a high level, there should still be hope – if not confidence – that there’s enough on the roster to find a corps that works.
It starts not with the talent, but the adaptation.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.