Expectations are not that high this year for the New England Patriots’ wideouts after the position endured a major overhaul in the offseason.
Julian Edelman is the only returning wide receiver from last year’s roster, and even he is not a guarantee to make the team, especially after missing the entirety of OTAs and the first week of training camp with a right foot injury that has lingered since last December. Edelman recently returned to training camp, just in time for the joint-practice drills with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Patriots and Eagles squared off in Philadelphia’s practice facility. The teams agreed to engage in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills first. Sure, these are just drills for ‘skill’ players, eliminating the offensive and defensive line. Yet, with all criticism and uncertainty surrounding the Patriots’ wide receiving core, there was no way the maligned Patriots wideouts would treat this as just another drill, especially when paired up against an opposition’s defense.
The new batch of Patriot receivers passed their first test with flying colors, dominating the Eagles’ defensive backs in both drills. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady connected on his first 20 passes in the 1-on-1 drill. Overall, Brady completed 27-of-30 passes in the 1-on-1′s, with Danny Amendola and rookie Josh Boyce shining in the drill for the Patriots.
The Patriots sustained their success on offense when the drills moved to 7-on-7. Boyce showcased his talents in this drill as well, beating triple coverage and then hauling in a deep pass from Brady for the touchdown. Brady completed all seven passes in the first round of 7-on-7s.
At one point in the drill, Patriots quarterbacks were able to complete 14 straight passes, even with erratic third-string quarterback Tim Tebow taking snaps under center.
Undrafted rookie free agent Kembrell Tompkins impressed in the 7-on-7 drills, using his physical build and underestimated speed to get open with enough ease that even Tebow, who is notorious for his accuracy issues in practice, was on fire during the drills.
Rookie Aaron Dobson looked sharped in 7-on-7s, catching four of Brady’s first seven passes in . He displayed some passion and fire by getting into a tussle with Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, who viciously hit Dobson in the face mask. Dobson retaliated, and eventually the two had to be kicked off the practice field for the day by their respective coaches.
Intensity picked up when the action shifted to 11-on-11s. Still, the Patriots receivers, particular the young wideouts, continued to make mincemeat of the Eagles’ secondary.
Joint practices sometimes bare no meaning on which team has the edge on another, especially with the game-time atmosphere not nearly in effect. Yet, for the Patriots’ receivers, the domination in the drills is a certain boost of confidence. Especially for a unit that is trying to find its identity, these drills can be used as a building block as they gear up for their pre-season game against this same Eagles squad on Friday night.