When you take a look at what rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have done so far through two games, it's hard not to realize they've been able to do something that not even seasoned veterans like Joey Galloway and Chad Ochocinco Johnson were able to do in this offense.
They've been able to grasp it well enough to hold their own, and save for a couple of miscues seem to be making progress in understanding exactly what's expected of them.
Thompkins made some progress last Thursday coming off of his four reception opening day performance having been targeted 14 times, and instead was targeted seven times with two receptions and was inches away from easily netting out a couple more. He seems like he's starting to get there, which should hopefully see him finally have a productive day against the Buccaneers this weekend.
Meanwhile Dobson obviously missed the season opener in Buffalo and has only played in one game, but his first NFL reception started out the way a rookie could hope for, as he ended up with a 39 yard touchdown. From there he battled through a few drops that will hopefully be a reminder that he's a little more mortal than the player who dominated at Marshall.
Fans have been clamoring over the past week about the fact the team should bring in a veteran receiver and seem ready to abort the idea of keeping these two guys in the line-up, but it was interesting looking at an article from 2006 from FootballOutsiders.com looking at the rookie season of Jerry Rice, which started out as a disaster for the now Hall of Fame receiver.
From the article:
"The 49ers, fresh off a victory in Super Bowl XIX, were 6-5 and fighting for their playoff lives. Joe Montana's passing numbers were off. Rice, the team's top draft pick, had 26 receptions in 11 games, but he also dropped 10 balls, some of them at the worst possible times. He was coming off a game in which he dropped two passes, fumbled once, and caught just one pass. Niners fans booed the rookie; local columnists made him the butt of jokes."
Obviously the goal isn't to compare either player to Rice, but more to point out that even the best receiver ever to play the game had his share of issues in his first year, and both of these guys have played in just two games. The tough part for both of them is that the expectations here in New England are so high that there's not much patience when fans are accustomed to seeing this offense be one of the most prolific in the NFL. So far New England is ranked 23rd in the NFL with 663 total yards, about 300 yards behind the Green Bay Packers who are 3rd with 965. Both Philadelphia (1385) and Kansas City (1000) are ahead of all of them, but they've also played three games so it's not a fair comparison.
Brady explained recently that these guys aren't 10 year veterans so it's unfair to expect them to play that way, but fans are used to seeing guys simply step in and play well. The offensive line has been a great example, and Logan Mankins told the Boston Herald that it's not as easy as it looks. As a rookie being drafted out of Fresno State, he played right away and admitted it was tough to adjust to the differences between Pro and College.
“I was a young guy like them thrown into the fire as a rookie,” Mankins told the newspaper on Thursday. “There were things I didn’t understand going on, so I understand what they’re going through. You’re put on the field and expected to produce like you’ve been here a long time, but you haven’t been here a long time. It’s not easy.
"At Fresno, it was a lot easier. In college you pretty much just block the guy in front of you. You don’t have all these combinations in pass protection. In college you pretty much just slide the protection all one way or the other."
Mankins pointed out that one thing that's important to remember is as long as you can physically play and it's just a matter of mental adjustments, they'll be O.K.
“It’s better if the problems are mental than physical,” Mankins said. “If they’re physical maybe you can’t overcome them. If they’re mental you can.”
For now the rookies seem to be athletic enough and have already made several big plays, so they definitely seem to be getting there. As it stands right now both account for two of the longest pass plays the Patriots have thus far, so one would like to think they'll be more to come. Every week is a learning experience and one that will hopefully allow them to grow and improve. But as we've seen playing in the NFL isn't easy for even some of the best in the game at their position. Time will tell how good each of these players ultimately become, but either way they'll still need that time to figure it out.
VINCENT JACKSON SHOULD PRESENT QUITE A CHALLENGE:
Looking at match-ups this weekend it's hard not to realize just how potentially difficult Jackson will make things against the Patriots on Sunday. He didn't have a reception during their preseason match-up but he also played only eight snaps. During the joint practices he had his way against nearly every Patriots defensive back, and historically has been productive. The Tampa Bay Tribune points out Jackson has 15 catches for 306 yards and three touchdowns in his past two meetings against New England, which will leave the Patriots trying to make sure he doesn't have another big outing on Sunday.
PATRIOTS WORKING OUT RECEIVERS?
We've obviously talked a lot recently about the fact the Patriots should be patient with the receivers, but it sounds like they're at least remaining open minded about potentially bringing in someone else. Rookie Josh Boyce has been the one player who has struggled enough so far that his playing time has dropped off (14 snaps in week one, down to 2 last weekend) and it's going to be interesting to see how much time he sees this weekend. In the meantime according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, the Patriots recently worked out Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson, as well as receivers Jared Green and Terrence Toliver. Wilson also reports that the team recently worked out defensive backs Myron Lewis, Jalil Brown, DeQuan Menzie, and Peyton Thompson.
That's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow for a morning entry as well as full post game coverage.