The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be plenty of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53 man roster and who is on the bubble.
Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring is a learning exercise and that the competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on board, 35 of these current members of the roster now, at a minimum will be cut.
Next up is the wide receivers, going into last season, the position was a bunch of question marks, but with 2015 approaching, the starting three are pretty much of a lock. The only questions are who makes the team, who gets the practice squad and who gets the gate.
So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola
Julian Edelman followed a stellar 2013 with an even better season last fall. Edelman snagged 92 passes for 972 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season and followed it up with 26 receptions for 281 yards in the playoffs. It was Edelman’s touchdown with 2:06 to play in the Super Bowl that gave the Patriots their win over Seattle.
During the playoffs Edelman also returned nine punts for 143 yards and during the Baltimore divisional playoff game; he took a lateral from QB Tom Brady and fired a 51-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola.
LaFell came over from the Carolina Panthers as a free agent in 2014 and had a very slow start. He admittedly struggled with the playbook and had a tough spring that carried over to training camp. But LaFell stuck to it, and studied hard at night and worked extra time with Brady.
But after the first month of the season, all the hard work began to pay off. LaFell finished the season with 74 receptions for 953 yards and seven touchdowns. He topped it off with a solid playoff performance of 13 receptions for 119 yards and two big touchdowns. His first was a 23-yard strike from Brady that was the game-winner against Baltimore. His second, an 11-yard scoring pass from Brady that was the first points scored in the Super Bowl.
Amendola struggled to find a role in the Patriots offense early in the 2014 but around mid-season began to find a comfort level with Brady that found him settling into the third WR role. He finished the year with 27 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown. But he capped it off with an outstanding post-season. Amendola caught 13 passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs. He added nine kickoff returns for 213 yards.
The top three receivers are familiar with the system and aren’t going anywhere, if they remain healthy, their production should improve.
Next up, the near locks…
Near Locks: Brian Tyms, Aaron Dobson
Tyms was signed by the Patriots on July 27, 2014 at the start of training camp after bouncing around with San Francisco, Miami and Cleveland. After serving a suspension to begin the season, Tyms made his first catch with the Patriots a memorable one, a 43-yard touchdown strike from Brady against Buffalo.
He took over the duties as the 4th wide receiver and finished the season with 5 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Tyms continued to work hard this off-season and had a good spring with a solid effort during OTAs and mini-camp.
Tyms has good size at 6’3, 205 and is working toward solidifying the 4th WR position as the guy who can stretch the field vertically. Look for him to have a solid summer. Tyms is going to push hard for the 53 man roster.
Dobson is entering his third season with the Patriots and has the same size as Tyms at 6’3, 205. He has the speed to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally and has re-dedicated himself to his craft after a nightmarish second season that saw him fall to an afterthought in the offense.
He had a solid rookie season with 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games with nine starts. But he was slowed by a couple of injuries and the foot injury suffered at the end of the regular season eventually required surgery which caused him to miss all of OTAs, mini-camp and nearly all of training camp.
As a result, his season never got off the ground and he finished with only three catches for 38 yards on the season. He tore a hamstring in the Green Bay game and was placed on IR.
But Dobson spent the winter in Arizona, working to get stronger and show up in the best possible shape to start the season. Given that the Patriots invested a second round draft pick (59th overall), on Dobson in 2013, he will be given every opportunity to win a slot.
Next up, the players on the bubble…
On the Bubble: Brandon Gibson, Josh Boyce, Jonathan Krause, Chris Harper
Gibson is a solid receiver who had a couple of 50+ reception seasons out of the slot with the Rams. He spent the last two seasons in Miami catching 30 passes in only seven games in 2013, and 29 receptions for 295 yards and a touchdown last season. He has decent size at 6’0, 210 and has worked with Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels in the past.
Boyce is a former fourth-round draft pick of the Patriots from 2013 who spent last season on the practice squad. He has yet to distinguish himself on the field and is going to need a big training camp to stick this season. He has nine career catches for 121 yards and nine kickoff returns for 214 yards…all from 2013.
Krause was originally signed by Cleveland last season before being released. He was signed by the Patriots to the practice squad. The 5’11, 190 receiver from Vanderbilt is a long shot to make the roster but would be a candidate to stick on the practice squad again.
Harper is a slightly undersized, wiry wide receiver who is insurance in the slot in case something happens to either Edelman or Amendola. He had a solid college career at Cal but is a long shot to make the roster out of training camp. He could find himself a candidate for the practice squad however. We did a profile on Harper after he was signed in May and he may find a way to carve a niche for himself with special teams, in the punt return game.
The wide receivers for the Patriots in 2015 enter in much better shape than a year ago. The top three receivers return and are well integrated into the offense. With the 4th option falling to either Tyms or Dobson, the team is in very good shape entering training camp on July 30.
Stay tuned, we’ll be down at training camp filing daily updates about the goings-on with the Pats as they begin the march to the 53 man roster.