On the first day of 2019’s free agency, the New England Patriots re-signed wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. The one-year, $2.6 million deal reflected his position on the team heading into 2019: Dorsett was far from a roster lock and instead had to earn his spot on the team. Three weeks into the preseason, he appears to be well on his way to doing just that. Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers was further confirmation of that.
Catching all five of his targets from Tom Brady for a combined 41 yards — he had seven receptions for 47 yards in total — the 26-year-old provided New England’s quarterback with a reliable weapon in the intermediate passing game. His preseason debut was therefore a continuation of what already was a strong training camp performance: while other wide receivers struggled with injury or inconsistency, Dorsett was his steady and reliable self.
For Brady, this does not come as a surprising development. After all, the veteran passer and the former first-round draft pick have worked together since Dorsett joined the Patriots via trade from the Indianapolis Colts in September 2017. Since then, the two connected on a combined 49 receptions for 592 yards and 5 touchdowns while Dorsett served as a rotational third/fourth wide receiver in New England’s offense.
“Phillip is a guy that I’ve played a lot of football with, and I have a lot of trust in — experience is a great thing in football if you use it well, and I think our experience together pays off. I read his body language,” said Brady about his connection with Dorsett. So far this summer, this experience appears to be paying off: the quarterback and the receiver regularly connected during 1-on-1 drills as well as team sessions in practice, and also against Carolina.
Dorsett therefore appears to have entered Brady’s famous ‘circle of trust’, joining a select group of players that also includes Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. “It is definitely important to build that trust,” Dorsett said on Thursday. “If the quarterback trusts the receiver then he knows where you will be and can just throw the ball without even thinking. Every day I go out there and continue to build that trust, think like him and be who he wants me to be.”
Judging by Brady’s statements, Dorsett already is who Brady wants him to be. “I love playing with Phil,” the 42-year-old said. “I think the great thing about Phil, he takes advantage of his opportunities. A lot of guys have been injured this preseason. Phil plays all three wide receiver positions, remembers all the coaching points from all the times we’ve talked about certain things. Even though he may not have done it, he goes in there and does it the way that Coach wants it done.”
This ability has allowed Dorsett to remain on the Patriots’ roster the last two years despite not always posting the best statistics or playing a starting role on a week-to-week basis. When his number was called upon, however, he usually delivered — whether it was helping replace Julian Edelman during his four-game suspension last year, or carrying a depleted wide receiver corps early on against the Panthers.
“It is my job and something that I take pride in. I work hard every day in practice and I am always working on my hands or working on my routes so whenever the ball comes I just do my best to catch it,” said Dorsett when talking to reporters following Thursday’s contest. “I would say I am definitely feeling a lot more comfortable but I think that comes with studying the playbook each day and practicing.”
Despite his recent success, however, Dorsett does not sound like the player that is easily satisfied with his accomplishments. Instead, he pointed out that his focus would still be on the challenges that come next: “Every game and every practice is an opportunity to go out there and be who you are and put your best foot forward. I wake up every day trying to get better. I am always working on my weaknesses and my strengths and that is what I look forward to when I wake up.”
Given this approach and the performances that came from it lately, Dorsett can also look forward to something else: making the Patriots’ roster. Against Carolina, he certainly showed that he belonged on it — just like he did all summer long.