NEPD Contributor: Dan Hope
The New England Patriots took the field Tuesday afternoon for their fifth consecutive day of practice to open their 2013 training camp. The pads were on for the Patriots and the sun was shining bright as they practiced for two hours and 10 minutes.
Here’s what I took away from what was personally my second trip of the year to watch practice at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Wide Receivers Stacking Up
There is no more important position battle right now on the New England Patriots’ roster than the battle at the wide receiver position. There may not be any battle, however, for the top spot on the receiving depth chart. Veteran receiver Danny Amendola, who was added as a free agent this offseason, started to run away with the No. 1 role with a standout performance on Tuesday.
From crossing routes to end zone fades, Amendola caught just about every pass that came his way. A number of those catches were quite challenging and impressive. He laid out over the middle for an impressive diving grab in a one-on-one drill versus cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, while he also made two toe-tapping catches at the back of the end zone during red zone drills.
It appears that Amendola will be used both in the slot and outside this season, in a role that will likely be similar or potentially more expansive than Wes Welker’s last season. Welker’s shoes are big ones to fill, but if he can consistently perform the way he did Tuesday, he is capable of being the go-to receiving target Welker was for Brady.
Opposite Amendola, the competition was wide open Tuesday. Second-round pick rookie Aaron Dobson, who received a majority of first-team repetitions at wide receiver during the team’s first four practices, did not participate in practice Tuesday.
Two of Dobson’s fellow rookie wideouts, fourth-round pick Josh Boyce and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, took the majority of first-team reps opposite Amendola in his place. Michael Jenkins and Kamar Aiken also received shares of work with the first-team offense.
While it remains very early in training camp, it would appear that Thompkins, although undrafted, is well on his way to not only making the Patriots’ 53-man roster, but also getting on the field immediately.
Thompkins did not stand out the way Amendola did today, but he did make one of the best catches of the day. On a deep ball up the left sideline, Thompkins did a great job coming back to the ball and making a challenging catch between cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Devin McCourty in the left front corner of the end zone.
Jenkins and Aiken are certainly competing for roster spots, but they could be left on the outside looking in. As it currently stands, it appears that there are six receivers the Patriots are set to keep: Amendola, Dobson, Boyce, Thompkins, Julian Edelman (currently out of practice due to injury) and Matthew Slater (for his special teams excellence). Jenkins and Aiken certainly look to be ahead of fellow veteran Lavelle Hawkins, but they may need injuries to happen in front of them to get a roster spot.
Thompkins isn’t the only undrafted rookie pass catcher working his way up the depth chart. Tight end Zach Sudfeld continued to impress Tuesday, consistently showing off his great hands. He made the catch of the day late in practice when he fully extended for an exceptional diving one-handed touchdown grab. With Rob Gronkowski still out with injury, Sudfeld may not only be working his way into a roster spot, but immediate playing time.
– Marcus Forston received a significant amount of first-team work at defensive tackle. He seems to be well on his way to making the Patriots’ 53-man roster and to working out of a rotational role behind starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
– Adrian Wilson took the majority of first-team reps at strong safety Tuesday. Steve Gregory took some first-team work, but not as much as he did to open camp.
– Running back Brandon Bolden and offensive linemen Elvis Fisher and Nick McDonald were among the other non-participants in practice.
– Safety Devin McCourty continued to wear a red non-contact jersey today. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower was also wearing red.
– Along with their first-team offensive reps, Thompkins and Boyce also received work as kickoff returners in addition to Leon Washington and Slater among others.
– Tim Tebow was the first quarterback to take the field today. He led the offense throughout their opening walkthrough, while Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett warmed up behind him. Don’t read into this: for the rest of the practice, Tebow was back with the third-team offense. Brady had a sharp day throwing the football. Mallett had another up-and-down day, mixing some very impressive downfield throws with some questionable decisions in team drills.
– The Patriots’ special teams portion of the day ended interestingly. One play after Adrian Wilson blocked a field goal attempt, the team ran a fake field goal pass with punter Zoltan Mesko throwing the ball to fullback Ben Bartholomew.
– The practice came to a heated ending between running back Stevan Ridley and cornerback Kyle Arrington. From a position blind to Ridley, Arrington leveled Ridley with a hard shot that sent the running back to the ground. Understandably upset, Ridley picked up the football and chucked it at Arrington while the two players exchanged words. The players then exchanged hard shoves with one another before being separated.
Dan Hope is the chief editor of Buffalo Bills Draft.