I've gained a new Patriots following from the recent piece I wrote about my perception of Tom Brady changing after actually getting to meet him. Just like Brady, I had a skewed vision of what I thought Pats' fans would be like — and what they are actually like.
— Ben Fawcett (@bbfawcett13) August 26, 2017
New England has an obviously passionate fan base — but it doesn't feel like a group who has become comfortable and complacent with all of the team's recent success. In fact, the fans seem hungrier than ever. It's clear they have learned well.
I've monitored a few of the Patriots' fan blogs and Twitter conversations over the last two days — and there's real concern about the upcoming season since Julian Edelman went down with a torn ACL during Thursday night's preseason game against the Lions.
From an outsider, I'm here to tell you the Patriots are just fine — even without their gritty, reliable slot-receiver.
"Brady's weaponry in 2017, even without Edelman, might be the best he's after had," said Bill Burt of CHNI Sports Boston. "Brandin Cooks is now elite, considered a top 10 wide receiver. Chris Hogan now looks like he's twice the guy who was pretty important a year ago. Danny Amendola has a job because of his dependability, which will probably be needed with Edelman's injury. Malcom Mitchell, who made two key catches in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, is a nice depth-guy to have."
There will inevitably be big moments late in the season or playoffs — where Brady searches for Edelman out of habit — but then realizes he will have to trust another option. Tweaks and adjustments are necessary and there will be hurdles, but that's typically when the Patriots and Brady are at their best.
Have you ever seen adversity slow them down? I sure haven't. Oh, and let's not forget, New England has a really good WR corps — even with Edelman on the sidelines.
Let's break them down:
Gronk and Allen
Why am I mentioning the tight ends first in an article about wide receivers? It's simple. This offense works through the two tight ends — naturally creating one-on-one chances on the outside for wide-outs. I'm not saying it doesn't matter who you have on the outside, that matters in a big way. But I am saying New England is different than a good chunk of NFL teams. The success of the offense starts in the middle and works it's way out.
The Patriots are kings of utilizing two big, fast tight ends with great hands. If they have those — the rest of the offense falls in place.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) August 25, 2017
Defenses are tasked with brutal decisions on a regular basis. Are the tight ends going to block or break out as receivers? What do we do? Can we actually run this blitz — or will it end up beating us? Just go watch an entire Pats' game, from start to finish, when both Gronk and Martellus Bennett were healthy last year. Brady uses the tight ends to create matchup nightmares and often sets the defense up, using them as decoys to hit wideouts in pivotal moments.
Gronk looks healthier than ever, and Dwayne Allen is coming off a solid year with the Colts. An injury to either would put a major wrinkle in things — but they will survive without Edelman — even though it stings. The tight ends are the catalyst.
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) August 8, 2017
This was one of the more underrated moves of the offseason. It's almost like Bill Belichick had a crystal ball and got a glimpse into the future — knowing he would need a reliable, proven, speedy downfield threat. The former Saints' star is coming off back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 yards and at least 8 touchdowns. That's high-level production on a regular basis.
Cooks was one of the players that really jumped out during my trip to West Virginia to take in joint practices between the Patriots and Texans. He was almost impossible to guard — consistently taking the top off the Texans' defense.
DeSean Jackson owns the reputation has the fastest wide receiver in the NFL who can truly alter a game with his breakaway speed — but Cooks looked just as fast. I've watched both players in practice situations and they mirror one another. Cooks will be fun to watch — and is poised for a monster year.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) August 25, 2017
There hasn't been a more talked about player than Hogan during the NFL preseason — but he's fully deserving of the praise and optimism. In my humble opinion, he's the clear No. 2 WR on the depth chart now.
Hogan scrapped his way on to the field in 2016 and delivered each time his number was called. In a role where he was used primarily as the 4th and 5th WR option, the former Penn State lacrosse standout prove that he could be the next under-the-radar wideout to shine in New England.
At the practices I watched, and throughout the preseason, Hogan has looked 100 percent comfortable with more responsibility. I think we see Cooks at the No. 1 spot, Hogan at No. 2 and Danny Amendola holding down the slot.
Danny Amendola securing a 31-yard pickup off a deflection by Quandre Diggs. pic.twitter.com/TeTh4mPRHL
— Oliver Thomas (@OliverBThomas) August 25, 2017
I did want to start with a quick observation about Amendola from camp, even if it ends up having little merit. He muffed a punt — and became noticeably upset and frustrated, which is fairly normal from any player. Cussing. Yelling. Fuming.
The thing that caught me off guard? This anger and frustration lasted the entire practice, for at least two hours or so. He didn't want to talk to other players, coaches or the media afterwords. It almost felt like a rookie who was desparately trying to prove himself. Listen, I'm not in Amendola's head and have no idea what motivates him, but I thought it was odd coming from a proven veteran. With the recent success of Edelman and now Hogan, I wonder if Amendola feels like he's fallen short of expectations and is fighting hard — even if most casual observers and fans are pleased with his production in the four years he's been in New England.
Maybe I'm wrong and looking way too into things, but it was strange. I'd love to get some feedback from Pats' fans on how Amendola is viewed.
I'm still a huge Amendola fan as long as he stays healthy (and that's a big if). He isn't going to replicate Edelman's production — but is good for 30-40 catches for 500 or so yards and a couple touchdowns. As I mentioned above, I think he's the natural choice to take over the slot, though we could certainly see a rotation with several guys taking on that role.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) August 9, 2017
As a rookie in 2016, Mitchell showed he was good enough to contribute in the NFL. Again, this is one of these sneaky Patriots' pass catchers who is sort of overlooked — but could easily emerge as a focal point on Josh McDaniels' offense.
I love the grittiness and fearless attitude Mitchell brought last year. He never seemed intimidated or as if the moment was too big. Remember those two, clutch, fourth-quarter snags in the Super Bowl? Massive.
Maybe it's a Patriots' thing, but the former Georgia standout seemed to thrive every time he got his hands on the ball. Like Hogan, he caught the eye of McDaniels and the Pats' coaching staff, which should translate to an increased role in 2017.
Mitchell has been battling a minor knee injury and was out during the preseason game last week — but he should be good to go for the opener.
Remember the name Austin Carr in Feb I'll ask u bout this tweet pic.twitter.com/JmNIiFoUtS
— King Of My City (@CityOfChampion2) August 26, 2017
The undrafted free agent wasn't a lock to make the roster with Edelman in the fold, but now, there is an opportunity for the Northwestern rookie to get some action on the field. He fits the mold of the kind of overlooked WR's that have found success under Belichick so it won't be a surprise to see Carr used during the regular season. Maybe he becomes the Hogan or Mitchell from last season.
Carr shined at Northwestern — finishing last season with 1,247 yards and 14 touchdowns. The raw WR has looked good against reserve players in the preseason and I think he's now safe to secure a roster spot. Beyond that? We shall see.