By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Tom Brady answered any doubts about his on-field performance in his strong preseason debut last Thursday. But one question that remains largely unanswered for the Patriots: who among the new guys will step up on offense?
There’s no reason to worry about Brady’s connection with Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman or James White or Chris Hogan. White saw the majority of the targets in the Pats’ preseason win over the Eagles. Hogan caught one of Brady’s two touchdowns. Yet it remains to be seen whether the likes of Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, or anyone else steps up to become a consistent threat like the others. Whether Brady will feel he can depend on them on a weekly basis.
It may have benefited Brady and the new receivers to get more offseason work in, besides just mandatory minicamp and three weeks of training camp. But Brady didn’t attend any Patriots OTAs, and doesn’t sound like he made any special trips with his receivers either.
A surprisingly standoffish Brady was asked in particular about Kenny Britt, who hasn’t practiced fully since the first day of minicamp. Asked during his Wednesday presser whether he’d spent any time working with Britt in the offseason, Brady replied “I wasn’t here in the offseason.” When asked if he’d worked at all with Britt outside of New England, he thought for a moment then repeated “I wasn’t here.”
Without reading too much into Brady’s response, he was clearly reluctant to say that he didn’t specifically work with Britt (or, possibly, any other new receivers) before he arrived in Foxboro. Brady himself hasn’t appeared too far behind. In fact, he’s mostly been his usual self in recent weeks.
But questions linger as to how the Patriots’ depth at key pass-catching spots will shake out. Can Dorsett be a reliable, consistent No. 3 receiver? Or a No. 2 receiver, which he will likely be for the first four weeks of the season? Does Brady truly trust anyone at running back besides White, or anyone at tight end besides Gronk?
Younger, less experienced targets have flashed with Brady. Tight end Jacob Hollister could make a year-two jump. Rex Burkhead mostly succeeded when on the field in 2017. Dorsett has contributed in camp and the the preseason and looks to have a greater understanding of the offense. Patterson still needs to show more consistency as a receiver, but made big plays in the screen game against the Eagles.
“You’ve got to get out there and practice it. You’ve got to see and gain that daily trust. And a big part of it is, things change over the course of an offseason.”
Ultimately, the Patriots did show that their pass-catching problems could be exaggerated. As long as Brady is sharp and he has Gronkowski, Edelman, Hogan, White, etc., the Patriots offense could turn out just fine. It’s the lower guys on the depth chart, the ones who may need to elevate themselves in a time of need, who still have to prove they can click with Brady. And No. 12 needs to prove he can click with them.
As Brady explained on Wednesday, it still comes down to dependability and getting the work in. Brady knows (without directly saying it) that he needs to get more work with new faces, but acknowledges that he constantly has to adapt to changes in that regard.
“The experience you got with certain players I think is very helpful but at the same time I don’t think you take it for granted,” Brady said. “You got to get out there and practice it, you got to see and gain that daily trust and a big part of it is things change over the course of an offseason, they change over the course of a season, gameplan, new routes, new schemes, new matchups.
“You got to go out there and show it on the practice field so that we can all gain trust in each other.”
Considering how often Brady has spoken about the importance of practicing and putting in his hours with everyone on offense, it’s fair to wonder why he didn’t consider the voluntary portion of offseason workouts quite as important as others. But it’s also fair to note that, back when Brady made his offseason workout debut on June 5, he was throwing a lot to Britt and Jordan Matthews.
Things have already changed. Matthews is gone, and the other is struggling to get on the field as he works back from a hamstring injury. So to Brady’s point, things are already evolving for the offense just in the course of the offseason. Injuries, like those to Matthews, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, and others, will continue to happen. The Patriots offense right now could look extremely different four months from now.
But for whatever reason, Brady certainly didn’t want to flat-out admit that he wasn’t working with Britt in the offseason. If the offense is slow to get going early in the season, similar questions will persist about his work with newer players and his offseason work in general.
Still, some of those same players could end up replaced by new ones. Regardless of how much work he’s put in to this point, the most important thing is that Brady puts in the work needed to win moving forward. The pieces around him continue to evolve; the work he puts in himself is what absolutely needs to stay consistent.
In 2018, that hasn’t been as consistent for Brady as in prior years. But now that real football is on the horizon, the quarterback should be expected to deliver his best every single week. And ultimately get everyone to fall in line with that. Excellence – and consistency – should be expected, if not demanded.
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 email@example.com.