Wes Welker is doing his thing with the Broncos. Aaron Hernandez is doing time in jail. Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch are waiting for their phones to ring.
The Patriots receiving corps is much different – and somewhat of a question mark – going into the 2013 season.
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First, the best news: Rob Gronkowski wasn’t placed on the physically unable to perform list, which would have kept him out for at least the first six games of the season. After four surgeries on his arm and one surgery on his back, he’s now practicing in pads with the team.
It’s doubtful Gronkowski suits up for the Pats Week 1 against the Bills (1 p.m., CBS), but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him back on the playing field soon. For now, Bill Belichick calls his situation “day-to-day,” as Gronk takes the steps necessary for a return.
Aside from the team’s big free agent acquisition in slot receiver Danny Amendola, the Patriots receivers are largely young and unproven. If Amendola can stay healthy – and that hasn’t been easy for him over the years – he could put up Wes Welker-like numbers, already seeming to have great chemistry with Tom Brady.
Even so, young receivers will have to step up to make up for the aforementioned key losses. Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, out of Cincinnati, has proven to be capable. Thompkins finished the preseason with 15 receptions for 164 yards, and appeared to be Brady’s favorite target – especially when Amendola was off the field.
He’ll be joined on the roster by fellow rookie wide receivers Josh Boyce, out of Texas Christian, and Aaron Dobson, out of Marshall. Dobson’s 6-foot-3 frame gives him a height advantage over some defensive backs – something Brady can certainly take advantage of.
“They’re all anxious to get started,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of the rookies. “They’ve got an enthusiasm about them. They’re all three capable of playing in our offense. We’ve already moved them and played multiple roles, multiple positions with them, which in our system is a really big plus for us to have some flexibility with those guys.”
Julian Edelman and Matt Slater return to the team for their fifth and sixth seasons, respectively.
One more undrafted rookie, tight end Zach Sudfeld, stood out on the offensive side of the ball in preseason. He looks to play the role of Hernandez and will see plenty of snaps with or without Gronkowski out there. Michael Hoomanawanui is the third tight end for New England.