With 9:30 left in the second quarter on a 3rd and 6, Jimmy Garoppolo held onto the football and waited for New England Patriots rookie TE Jacob Hollister to get open. Hollister crossed the field behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties with plenty of room to run. Garoppolo pump faked and stepped up in the pocket before unleashing a laser of a pass.
The pass fell incomplete, just beyond the outreached hand of Hollister. Garoppolo expected Hollister to continue across the field. Hollister stopped his route to try and sit in an open zone and was unable to start running again to reach the intended target location.
That could have been a low point for the rookie tight end, but it became a turning point. Hollister reeled in his next 6 targets for 115 yards as he put on a show for the Patriots front office (he also drew an additional 24 yards of penalty yardage from the Jaguars defenders).
“I was just trying to do my job tonight and just a product of the coaches getting me ready and feeling good,” Hollister said after the game. “Everybody did their job for most of the night. Still made a lot of mistakes, but looking forward to getting better.”
“I definitely was having butterflies, but after getting through the first couple of plays I started getting into a rhythm and started feeling good,” Hollister added.
Hollister was more than “good” as he finished the game as Pro Football Focus’ highest graded player and his 54 snaps ranked third for the Patriots offense and finished the day with 7 receptions for 116 yards.
The first few receptions came at the expense of Hollister’s body as he was on the receiving end of a few painful blows- but he found a way to hold on to the ball.
Hollister runs up the seam and sits in the middle of the two linebackers and the two safeties. Unlike the first throw, Garoppolo is expecting Hollister to stay in the middle of the field and connects for the big third down conversion.
Garoppolo also found Hollister in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half as the hit led to an additional 9 yards due to unnecessary roughness (half the distance to the goal).
“I think I needed a couple of those hits to get me going,” Hollister joked after the game. “Those first couple of big hits- I got riled up both times.”
Hollister really opened up in the second half as he faced the Jaguars back-ups (make sure to take all of Hollister’s production with a grain of salt) as he showed an excellent ability to find weaknesses in the opposing defense and to generate yards after the catch.
Hollister simply runs up the seam and one of the linebackers is supposed to carry the tight end down the field, but they leave Hollister to cover the running back, leaving Hollister wide open. The safety play also didn’t help as the single high free safety was slow to react.
Jacoby Brissett was less successful than Garoppolo at finding his receivers, but this was an easy play as the entire Jaguars defense bit on the misdirection, leaving Hollister wide open. The hurdle at the end of the play is simply the cherry on top.
The Jaguars are dropping seven into coverage on this third-and-15 and Brissett still connects with Hollister in the middle of the field as Hollister splits and then comes back between the two linebacker.
Hollister was the Patriots best receiver on the day and he also showed up at times as a blocker. While the tight end wasn’t dominant by any means, he got the job done and showed promise for potential development.
Hollister is number 48 outside the right tackle.
It seems like every Patriots preseason star tight end fits in the same mold as a great receiver and a less-than-impressive blocker, but Hollister seems to have a solid base to grow. If he can spend a year or two in the Patriots strength and conditioning program, there’s no reason why he can’t become a reliable number two tight end in the offense.
“[Tight end is] not an easy position in our offense,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on a Friday conference call. “There are no easy ones. But [Hollister’s] done a good job of adapting to the things that we've asked him to do. He's learning. He's got a long way to go. There are a lot of things that he needs work on in all phases of the game, running game, passing game, kicking game. But he's a hard working kid. He’s out there every day and he's made improvement. Had an opportunity to make a couple of plays last night and made them so that was good.”
Hollister wasn’t perfect by any means, either. He cost the team 20 seconds on the final two minute drill when he failed to get out of bounds, and his lack of strength allowed the Jaguars defenders to disrupt the point of attack.
But overall, Hollister put together a very strong performance and he’ll likely see time with the first team offense in week two of the preseason to show what he’s really made of.
“[I’m] trying to make it obvious to those guys that I can make plays and make them feel comfortable throwing to me,” Hollister said. “I’m just doing what I can for the team and showing all of my teammates I can be trustworthy.”
It’s clear that Hollister made a good first impression and that goes a long way towards building trust. If he can show additional special teams value or improvement every week of the preseason, he could earn one of the few roster spots that are still available.
“I do whatever the team needs me to do,” he added. “I have always been a more versatile kind of guy. I just do whatever I need to do. That’s really my plan going into it, just doing whatever I can for the team to win ball games.”