During yesterday’s joint practice with the Tennessee Titans, Tom Brady targeted nine players during team drills. Of those nine guys, only four — all of them running backs — have caught a regular season or playoff pass from the New England Patriots’ quarterback this decade. The rest of the skill position players surrounding him was a combination of rookies or other inexperienced youngsters, and veteran free agency acquisitions.
The reason for this mix of talent is quickly found: in total, eight of the combined nineteen wide receivers and tight ends that the Patriots have under contract right now were out yesterday because of injury. The list of absentees consists of players currently on a reserve list — Julian Edelman (NFI), Demaryius Thomas (PUP), Cameron Meredith (PUP) — as well as those that got hurt at one point over the last week.
Wide receivers N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris are dinged up, as are tight ends Matt LaCosse and Stephen Anderson. At least five of the players listed here were and still are projected to play considerable snaps in New England’s offense this season. However, at this point in time they are unavailable — in turn making way for the youngsters and the other depth options to get opportunities and prove their value.
For Brady, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The 42-year-old, who looked terrific during his two sessions against the Titans despite the ever-changing cast of characters surrounding him, spoke about New England’s current receiver shortage following Thursday’s practice. Needless to say, it seems like the greatest quarterback of all time is trying to make the most of the situation and emphasizing the positive effects it can have on him and the team.
“I think training camp’s an interesting time with a lot of bodies and there’s a lot of guys in and out,” said Brady. “Some years, you might have three guys set, or four guys set, and I think this year we haven’t really had that. It’s good work for the quarterback, just to make a read and then make a throw, and whether we come up with it or not, at least we’re going to the right place and making a good, decisive play.”
“There’s still a lot to be gained with guys moving in and out, and that’s just the way it’s been here,” he said. This development has led to some unexpected contributors emerging. Second-year man Braxton Berrios, for example, has had some good stretches recently as the number one option from the slot. On Thursday, he was Brady’s favorite target and came away with a combined five receptions during team drills with the quarterback.
And while not all was perfect — Brady was quite vocal after the young wideout ran a wrong route at one point — the arrow is trending up. The same goes for the most surprising player of the Patriots’ 2019 training camp: Jakobi Meyers. The undrafted rookie has been the best wide receiver on the team for the last two weeks, catching nearly everything thrown his way. He also quickly built some evident chemistry with New England’s passer.
“I think the chemistry between a quarterback and receiver, a quarterback and a tight end, is so important because it’s all anticipation,” Brady said after yesterday’s practice (one during which he and Meyers connected on all four of their pass attempts during team drills) “If you’re waiting for things to happen in the NFL, you’re too late. You’ve got to just anticipate and expect them to be a certain way, and that’s the way they turn out.”
“I have, obviously, a lot of experience, so I know where guys should be, so I’m trying to tell them, ‘If you want the ball, this is where you’ve got to be,’ which is hopefully good learning for those guys, and it’s good teaching for me,” continued Brady. “I always say the quarterback can’t do anything without the receivers, and the receiver can’t do anything without the quarterback, which makes it a really great relationship.”
“That’s why we work hard at it, that’s why you spend the time with those guys and you put all of the work in,” continued the future Hall of Famer. While Brady has not seen the same number of reps with every wide receiver or tight end on the Patriots’ roster, he is continuously building his connection with those that are in a good position to make the team — from Berrios and Meyers to the running backs and veteran tight end Benjamin Watson.
With other receiving options currently nursing injuries, the recent opportunities to work with the depth players could pay dividends in the long run. While Edelman, Harry, Dorsett, Harris and LaCosse are expected back sooner rather than later, Brady having trust in all levels of depth is valuable. Right now, this trust is being built and it would not be a surprise if it led to considerable regular season action for some previously unlikely contributors.