New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has thrown up a stiff arm when it comes to discussing back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but he was effusive in his praise of the team’s receiving talent on SiriusXM NFL radio.
"I think our competition at receiver is probably as good as it's been since I've been here ," Belichick said Monday on Sirius XM NFL Radio's "Movin' the Chains" program, as transcribed by ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
"All those guys are capable at whatever it is; they have different styles and different positions- slot guys, outside guys. But whatever it is, they're very competitive and capable players that have a lot to offer. Obviously we can't keep all of them, but it should be a good battle because they all have skill."
While the top two receivers in Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have been sidelined with injuries, it’s been the depth at the position that has really made a positive statement.
The newly acquired Chris Hogan has been the best receiver in camp, although he nicked up his shoulder on Sunday. Fourth-year veteran Aaron Dobson has placed his tantalizing ability on full display, with circus catches on a daily basis. Rookie 4th round pick Malcolm Mitchell was possibly the top receiver on the field on Sunday.
And then players like Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, Devin Lucien, and DeAndre Carter have made head-turning plays of their own during practice.
Well, then there’s the unintentionally hilarious way that Reiss described Nate Washington:
The Patriots will only be able to keep five or six of these players, which means that Dobson, Martin, Harper, Lucien, Carter, and Washington will be competing for one or two spots. Harper, Lucien, and Carter are possible practice squad options, which could factor into the Patriots ultimate decision.
Belichick is happy about more than just the wide receivers- he was raving about tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett as well.
“Marty’s showing up well in all phases of the game- blocking, receiving, and he’s a good downfield receiver,” Belichick said on the radio show. “Big target, can go up and get the ball. He and Rob, they’re different, but they’re kind of interchangeable. They can both block, they can both catch down the field, they can run the intermediate routes, they’re both huge targets, so I know the quarterbacks love throwing to them and I think it gives us a little variety.
“Having to match up against one guy’s hard. Now having to match up against two of them, hopefully we can put some pressure on the defense both in the running game and the passing game.”
Gronkowski is the single most unique offensive talent in the league, while Bennett offers a similar skill set, albeit at a lower caliber of play. The Patriots will be able to place both on the field at the same time and the two can offer unrivaled flexibility.
And when Gronkowski and Bennett can run the same plays on the inside, and Edelman and Amendola and Hogan can run the same plays on the outside, then the offense is perfectly constructed to combat and defeat every opposing defense that comes their way.
Belichick is saying that the receiving competition this season is better than any other since 2000, which seems like a reach because we all saw what happened in 2007, but sure why not. I’m guessing that the battle for time on the field is as heated as Belichick has seen; in 2007 it was pretty evident that Randy Moss and Wes Welker were going to start.
We will have to wait a week to see if the competition is bearing any fruit, but if Belichick is right, the success will certainly be sweet.
Belichick had a few other notes, specially on how the safety position “might be the strongest we have on the team, from top to bottom,” and that rookie guard Joe Thuney can “play any position on the line. He’s aggressive and likes to finish blocks.”
2016 is going to be a fun year.