Wide Receiver a Focal Point During First Day of Patriots Camp

New England’s wide receivers caught attention during the first day of training camp. (Photo: Oliver Thomas)

NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas

The rainy opening day of New England Patriots training camp outside Gillette Stadium had many storylines. Although as far as on-field observations are concerned, the wide receiver position certainly proved to be one worth monitoring on July 26.

The group of wideouts participating in drills was thinned a bit with Rutgers rookie Mark Harrison, Cincinnati rookie Kenbrell Thompkins and slot target Julian Edelman manning the sidelines. Thompkins’ injury is uncertain, while Harrison and Edelman are working back from a fifth metatarsal fracture and a broken foot, respectively.

Their absence opened up extended reps for the other nine.

The one man who stood apart was Danny Amendola. The prized free-agent acquisition saw his share of passes thrown is way from New England’s three quarterbacks. Amendola ability to operate underneath and up the sideline makes him a favorite to be the offense’s go-to receiver. The 5’11”, 195-pounder looked quick in and out of breaks, even reeling in a diving sideline catch which got the crowd cheering. He looks the part.

Beyond Amendola, the Patriots receiving corps offered glimpses of promise from an array of faces. Some have been touted; others have been off the radar.

Rookie second-round pick Aaron Dobson stood out at the “X” spot. The 6’3”, 200-pound Marshall deep threat managed to show soft hands running fades and out routes, also garnering some first-team reps. Rookie fourth-round pick Josh Boyce lined up at the “Z” spot off the line. And in turn, the 5’11”, 205-pound Texas Christian product was able to smoothly separate from coverage and haul in some quality catches.

The draft choices weren’t the only ones showing well for the 6,390 observers. Michael Jenkins, a 6’4”, 215-pound veteran, didn’t provide much flash from the “X” spot, but he provided dependability. He’s not real speedy, but he runs routes with the savvy of a 31-year-old and quietly had a good day.

Former Tennessee Titans slot receiver Lavelle Hawkins is suited for the slot at 5’11”, 195 pounds. As a result, that’s where he played on Friday. He appeared to be rapid in the cone workouts, displaying rapid footwork and minimal stoppage before cutting. It’s worth noting that he also returned a couple kicks.

Recently-signed youngsters Perez Ashford and Quentin Sims didn’t really stand out. Ashford is a compact pass-catcher 5’11”, 182 pounds. Sims, on the other hand, is bulked with a 6’3”, 202-pound frame. The soggy weather also netted Sims and special teams captain Matthew Slater dropped passes. At this point it’s clear that Ashford and Sims will have to battle hard in order to stick apart from the rest of the pack.

The biggest surprise from the opening day of training camp was a practice squad player a year ago: Kamar Aiken. The 6’2”, 215-pounder was called up to New England’s 53-man roster and played in the Week 16 tilt versus the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. Despite the fact he has zero catches on his NFL resume, Aiken looks to be deserving of more opportunities. No. 16 made the catch of the day down the right sideline, snagging an over-the-head Tom Brady Pass against third-round draft selection Logan Ryan. Aiken made a few nice receptions and should be in store for some more as training camp progresses.

Overall, it was a strong start for the Patriots wide receiving nucleus, even with less-than-ideal conditions. It will be interesting to see if the relatively unproven group can continue this effort when the other three men are back in the mix.

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