New England Patriots TE Dwayne Allen calls him “Mr. Perfect.”
Head coach Bill Belichick says he “works hard, puts the team first, good in the kicking game, blocks, runs after the catch, catches the ball, makes tough catches, smart...I think he has earned everybody’s respect just from his day-to-day attitude, performance, physical and mental toughness.”
Patriots WR Chris Hogan might be the forgotten skill player in an offense flush with talent, but those in the building are extremely aware of his potential and his upside in his second season with the team.
“Any time you’re in something longer than what I was last year, obviously I’ve really studied a lot more and my comfortableness is obviously at a different level this year than it was last year,” Hogan said Wednesday via NESN. “But for me it’s just about going out there, working on the things I didn’t get to work on last year or things like that so I can be moved around so Tom, Jimmy and Jacoby can trust me.”
As the Patriots acquired WR Brandin Cooks to line up with WR Julian Edelman, and as TE Rob Gronkowski returned to 100% from his back surgery, and after the Patriots signed RB Mike Gillislee and RB Rex Burkhead, it was easy to forget where Hogan fits into the offense.
The Patriots typically play a running back on 100% of the offensive snaps, which leaves just four skill players left to take the field. With Gronkowski, Edelman, and Cooks filling three spots, that left Hogan to share the field with the likes of FB James Develin, TE Dwayne Allen, WR Danny Amendola, and WR Malcolm Mitchell. Instead, Hogan might be a much larger staple in the offense than previously thought.
“You come in when you first get here, or get anywhere, and try to establish yourself, figure out what’s going on, fit in and all of that,” Belichick said about Hogan. “He has done that now. It’s at a different level. Like when [Julian] Edelman started, that’s where he was but he has grown into a different – I mean most players do that – but yeah, I think that has happened for Chris because of his role on the team and his day-to-day work ethic and attitude and toughness.”
But while Hogan has been receiving praise from his teammates as a player that should take a big leap in his second season with the team, I want to pause and highlight a player that I think will take an even larger jump- and one that should hopefully play a lot more snaps.
Hogan is joined by veterans CB Eric Rowe and LB Kyle Van Noy, who were midseason acquisitions that are in the middle of their first Patriots offseason, along with other regular season additions FB Glenn Gronkowski and TE Matt Lengel. Rowe and Van Noy should also take considerable jumps in their first full season with the team.
But it’s a player from the 2016 rookie class that will make headlines. LG Joe Thuney should play every snap in his second season and he should have a huge impact on the entire Patriots offense.
Thuney was a third round pick, sandwiched by CB Cyrus Jones and QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Vincent Valentine, and WR Malcolm Mitchell. He played a combined 1,452 snaps on offense and special teams over the course of his rookie season, the most of any player on the team.
Last year, we watched C David Andrews and RG Shaq Mason take big leaps in their second seasons under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and I think that Thuney should be able to replicate their improvements. Thuney is one of the few players this offseason that has been able to hold his own against EDGE Trey Flowers and he should benefit from staying at guard after moving around from position to position in college.
Thuney’s rookie struggles were extremely fixable, too, and were similar to the flaws in Andrews’ and Mason’s rookie games. He lacked the strength to hold up against bull rushes and he was susceptible to stunts by the defensive line. Both Andrews and Mason improved in both categories in their second seasons.
A second season in the Patriots strength and conditioning program should do wonders for Thuney and his improvement should have a massive effect on the roster of the offense.
If Thuney is stronger, then that will benefit Gillislee, Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis in the run game. If he’s more savvy in pass protection, then Gronkowski, Edelman, Cooks, and, yes, Hogan will be the beneficiaries.
There’s no player in their second-year of the Patriots program with as much impact to offer as Thuney, and he’s going to make the biggest leap of all.