With neither Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett available for last week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys because of injury, the New England Patriots had to turn to a pair of rookies to help the passing offense. And while their performance was certainly not without its fair share of growing pains, both N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers made a mostly positive impression during their team’s 13-9 victory against the then 6-4 Cowboys.
Harry saw four passes thrown his way, and finished the game with more drops (two) than receptions (one). His lone catch, however, was a big one: the 32nd overall selection of this year’s draft, who had missed New England’s first nine contests of the season because of an ankle injury, caught the game’s only touchdown when he and quarterback Tom Brady connected on a perfectly executed back-shoulder throw from 10 yards out.
Meyers, meanwhile, played a bigger role in the offense in terms of volume (if not snaps, Harry had 57 compared to his 54). The undrafted free agent was targeted eight times by Brady and finished with four catches for 74 yards. While he also dropped two passes, Meyers did help the Patriots convert two third downs along the way and ranked second only to Julian Edelman in targets, catches and receiving yards on the day.
“They both have worked really hard at trying to do the things we’re asking them to do,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during a media conference call earlier this week. “There’s nobody that comes from college and has been doing things the way that we’re asking them to do them right away, I don’t really care what position it is. And so, that position is really no different than the others.”
“You want to train them to create good habits both in releasing, alignment, route running, catching the football, how to finish different routes versus different techniques in coverage,” McDaniels continued. “They’ve seen a lot of different coverages that you don’t always see in college football. They continue to work really hard in practice. Joe [Judge] and Troy [Brown] have done a great job of bringing them along. Tom [Brady] has done a great job of working with them in practice.”
While the work paid off last week, at least partially, the question will be how integrated the two youngsters will remain with a game against the Houston Texans and one of the NFL’s least efficient pass defenses on the horizon. Both Sanu and Dorsett are expected back in the lineup this week, so the chances for Harry and Meyers to make an impact could be limited. For McDaniels, however, this is not necessarily the main focus.
“The biggest thing for us is we just continue to try to improve on something,” the 43-year-old said about the rookie’s development earlier this week. “If you keep making progress with young players then that’s all you can ask of them. I know their work ethic and their attitude has been great; they’re very eager to try to do things the way that we want them to do them. They both went out there and made some plays that helped us win.”
“A lot of things that we can do better, a lot of things that we can clean up and those game experiences always contribute to the improvement of a player. There’s nothing you can do to simulate the game. We have a great opportunity this week to try to build off of last week,” added McDaniels. Both Harry and Meyers are in a good position to do that, considering that the Patriots’ top three wide receivers are all listed on the injury report this week.
While Julian Edelman is dealing with a shoulder injury, Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett are still limited due to the ankle and head injuries that forced them to sit out last week’s contest. If either of the three players is unable to go the distance against Houston on Sunday, however, it seems that the rookie receivers waiting in the wings will be ready to step in and fill the void — just like they against the other team from Texas.