By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
A year after they almost had too many receivers — even with Julian Edelman going down with a season-ending injury in the third week of the preseason — the New England Patriots currently find themselves rail-thin at the wideout position.
That’s because neither Kenny Britt, nor Jordan Matthews or Malcolm Mitchell were healthy enough to get onto the field and contribute to the New England offense in any and every possible way. And also because the 31-year-old Eric Decker decided that retiring was more appealing than trying to hack it as a viable NFL receiver with a broken body. To handle such losses, the Patriots’ first and only move to date has been to sign K.J. Maye, who failed to make it out of camp last year, back to their roster.
Maye (who will have one preseason game to make this squad) joins a a Murderers’ Row of wide receiving options that as of right now includes Julian Edelman (suspended for the first four games of the season), Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien, and Paul Turner. Among that group, only Edelman and Hogan have any considerable experience with Brady, while Dorsett’s preseason showing last week showed the first signs of Dorsett (who was acquired just before the start of the 2017 season) being on the same page as the sometimes-fussy Brady.
But Patriots coach Bill Belichick is not fretting over their depth issues, if only because 2018 hasn’t even started yet.
“Our entire team, we all have a lot of work to do,” Belichick said when asked about the depth issues at wideout. “We all have a lot to prove at every position. None of us have done anything this year in the 2018 season. I think we’re all in the same boat on that one – coaches, players, whatever position you want to look at. We all have a long way to go and we’ll see where we get to.”
Belichick also acknowledged the respect he has for Decker for making the decision to retire, and touched on the seemingly bad luck that’s come with health issues to Britt and the other receivers that were incapable of making it out of camp.
“That’s unfortunately professional football,” Belichick said when asked about his disappointment with Britt. “A lot of people are competing for not as many spots as there are players. We have to make decisions. Sometimes players make decisions, but somewhere along the line we have to make the majority of those decisions and do what we feel is best for the football team based on what the players have earned, what they’ve done this year. It’s the hard part of the job. Yeah, one of the hard parts.”
But the Patriots may find a boost in the pass-catching ability of their backfield, which is headlined by James White, and seemingly bolstered by the skillset of both Rex Burkhead and 2018 first-round draft pick Sony Michel upon their returns.
“First of all, the biggest thing is pass protection,” Belichick said of incorporating his backs into the passing game. “If you put a back in a situation where he didn’t have to worry about pass protection, which is what most receivers are, then that’s one thing. Once you get into pass protection, you’re talking about a horse of a different color now. That’s a whole different situation. If you eliminated that, then could the back do some of the things that a receiver does without pass protection involvement? Possibly.
“It just depends on how good the player is at doing it and how many reps he can get doing it because it takes quite a bit of time for a back to be efficient in his run reads, and carrying the ball, and pass protection, and his backfield routes and so forth. Theoretically, you could split him out and have him do some of the things that a receiver does. It would be hard to get to a full route tree, but you could maybe pick out a couple of things and do those, yeah.”
In addition to the versatility of their running back corps, the aforementioned thinned out group of wideouts could see the Patriots roll with an extremely limited wide receiving group with their opening 53-man roster.
Something Belichick’s not worrying about. Not yet, anyway.
Ty Anderson 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 Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.