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Patriots coaches defend wide receiver Tyquan Thornton’s route running

The second-year receiver has struggled with consistency in that area.

New England Patriots v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Tyquan Thornton has had a challenging sophomore season with the New England Patriots. The former second-round draft pick missed time early in the season due to a shoulder injury sustained in training camp, and since then has only been used sporadically.

Since his return from injured reserve in Week 6, Thornton has been on the field for only 18.7 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps (70 of 374) and caught five passes on 12 targets for 34 yards. New England’s overall insufficiencies in the passing game might have played a role in that, but the young pass catcher himself has also not lived up to expectations.

One possible explanation for his lack of opportunities and production is his route running. Thornton, on numerous occasions, appeared to take extra steps, bend his routes, or not get to his intended landmarks quickly enough.

But while there are legitimate questions about his ability to run routes in the intended manner, his position coaches came to his defense this week.

“Tyquan, second-round draft pick for a reason. He’s very talented,” wide receivers coach Ross Douglas told Pats Pulpit on Tuesday. “He can run routes, he proved that in college. He’s proved that at time in his one-and-a-half-year NFL career. But we’ve just got to be more consistent with anything, and that’s not just him. ...

“Tyquan, he’s a guy who is eager to learn. He’s willing to work, so I know it’ll continue to get better.”

Fellow wide receivers coach Troy Brown also expressed confidence in Thornton getting his route running improved, and making a bigger general impact on New England’s offense. However, he also pointed out that the time missed due to injuries both in 2022 and 2023 have hampered his development.

“Obviously, he’s missed time. And that always — it slows you down,” said Brown. “But Tyquan’s been good. He’s been working hard, and he’s been great to have as a player. He has a lot of tremendous speed that he can put to good use. Obviously, he hand’t been able to get into a groove — he’s been in and out of the lineup for the last two years. But he’s continuing to work, and he’s a good route runner.”

Thornton started both his rookie and sophomore seasons on IR. He suffered a clavicle injury during last year’s preseason and was sidelined for the first four weeks of the year; this summer, he hurt his shoulder while making a deep reception during joint practices with the Green Bay Packers.

Both ailments have not just cost him playing time, but also the opportunity to build a rapport with the rest of the offense in practice. Additionally, he also had reduced chances to work on the finer details of playing the position such as route running.

Concrete examples for that can be found all over his tape. During Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants, for example, he twice seemed to take extra steps in his breaks to throw off the timing and allow receivers to get a better break on the ball.

The same issue also was spotted in the previous game he appeared in, a Week 9 loss to the Washington Commanders. Thornton, who was dealing with a foot injury entering the game, was pulled after running just 10 routes early on and not getting in a competitive position on two third down incompletions.

“Against Washington it was a pre-game workout. He wasn’t 100 percent there,” said Douglas. “So, that was actually the foot that he had to cut off of when he ran the route against [Emmanuel] Forbes on the out-breaking route. So, that was a little messed up there.

“And then on Sunday against the Giants, the route could have been better. We know that. I know that. He knows that. The route could have been better right there. So, it’s just something we’ve got to continue to work on and continue to emphasize, because he is a good route runner, but we’ve just got to be more consistent.”

How does a player like Thornton become more consistent, though? For his position coach, it all has to do with time spent on the practice field.

“It’s just with reps, and time, and practice,” Douglas said. “That’s the only way we can get out of this thing, and that’s the way we get better. We’ve just got to continue practicing and to work at it, and continue to emphasize it.”