Patriots

Phillip Dorsett's advantage in Patriots wideout battle? His big brain

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Phillip Dorsett's advantage in Patriots wideout battle? His big brain

FOXBORO — The much-maligned Patriots wide receiver group entered the preseason like swaggering Vince McMahon GIF last Thursday night in Detroit.

I was at the head of the maligner line because, simply, the NFL production from guys who’ve been in the league has been modest and the rest of the wideouts were newcomers.

But Thursday night against the Lions was an unqualified success as rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry jumped off the screen with their physicality, smoothness and hands. Eight different receivers had catches, from the quick and little Braxton Berrios to the long and silky Dontrelle Inman.

And even if the Lions DBs left a ton of cushion and weren’t interested in pushing, it was still an auspicious start.

“We got a lot of guys,” said wide receiver Phillip Dorsett when I copped to slamming the wideout crew. “It’s the National Football League, everybody can play. If you can’t play, you wouldn’t be here. We have a lot of different variety of guys, guys that can play inside and out and it’s competition. We’re making each other better every day.”

The variety is what’s intriguing. I’m generalizing, but the Patriots for a decade have had a sudden slot who opens things up for a mammoth tight end. The outside receiver is an accessory and the fourth receiver — Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Dorsett — is an assassin defenses lose track of.

This year is going to be different. One, because the mammoth tight end is gone. Two, because the outside receiver is going to be a bread-and-butter spot. And three, the outside receivers — Harry, Meyers and Julian Edelman if Berrios turns into a capable slot — have inside-outside ability.

Provided the Harrys, Meyers, Berriosssessesss, Inmans, etc. can be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there when the throwing gets tough. That’s something Dorsett has proven.

“It’s advanced,” said Dorsett. “And that’s why a lot of guys can’t play here. It continuously evolves. You got guys who can play inside and out. If you’re versatile, you can play in this offense. It’s easier to play here when you learn it conceptually instead of learning one position. I think that’s what makes it hard for a lot of guys.”

“It’s tough,” he added. “It takes a long time to learn. You get in what you put in. If you take the time and study it and learn it, you’ll learn it. But if you put it to the side and come in and do what you’re told to do you won’t learn it. You gotta put the work in.”

I thought that part from Dorsett — that a receiver can’t come in and just do what he’s told as if it’s paint by numbers — was fascinating. Because it gets right to the meat of the issue of why some guys can do it and others — though talented — can’t. Often, Patriots receivers are charged with altering their route after the snap.

Inside leverage from the corner and the safety on the deep hash? That means the tight end’s route is going to be X and the slot is going to have to go Y yards downfield and break it back to Z? Right? And if it’s not right, the greatest quarterback in NFL history is going to throw to a spot that said receiver was supposed to be standing in and his interception is now a pick-6? Good times.  

Dorsett gets the concepts. Even though his output has been modest through two seasons with the team — 60 targets in 31 games, 44 catches, 290 yards and three touchdowns — he’s money when Brady goes to him (73.3 percent catch percentage).

His limitation, mainly, is his size. Despite being absurdly fast, he’s small and slightly built. He’s not an inventive after-the-catch runner, which is probably fine because he’s not built for the same punishment small but stocky guys like Troy Brown, Amendola and Edelman were and are.

Even though Brady went away from Dorsett once the Patriots traded for Josh Gordon in 2018, the quarterback is a huge fan.

“Whenever he’s been called on, he’s come in and made plays," Brady said last December. "Whenever the ball is in his hands, he’s dangerous. He’s great running with the ball. He’s a really crisp route-runner. He can play all the positions and just so impressed with how he’s handled everything this year. I really love playing with Phil.

"He’s done a great job for us.”

Why the love?

“I think it’s the way I go about my work, the way I take on the meetings and come on the practice field I think that’s what it is,” said Dorsett. “I appreciate him and I’m just glad he appreciates me.”

Dorsett is now in his third year with the Patriots and — after joining the team at the end of training camp in 2017 when he was traded by the Colts in exchange for Jacoby Brissett — only Edelman has a better grasp of what’s going on at the position than Dorsett does.

He could use that knowledge as leverage over the younger wideouts he’s competing with. He won’t.

“It doesn’t matter who I’m competing against, if you need help, I’m gonna help you,” said Dorsett. “No matter what. It’s all friendly competition because we’re all on the same team. We know we’re fighting for jobs but we’re on the same team and the one goal is to win. The guy who knows it the most, the guy who can play it the most, wins. But at the end of the day, I’m an easygoing guy but my goal here is to win.”

Dorsett, a first-round pick in 2015, is still a young player at 26. Just like the armada of young players who’ve come in this season, he too has room to grow. That’s part of the reason he re-signed here in March. He’s got a modest deal — $1.5M salary with another $500K if he makes the team — but he’s betting on himself a bit.

The quarterback he plays with also makes a difference.

“I understand what it is (to be playing with Brady),” he acknowledged. “It definitely is an honor. I loved him before I got here. He was my favorite quarterback. Now I’ve got a chance to know him, had a chance to play with him and it definitely is an honor.”

Click here for Phil Perry's latest 53-man Patriots roster projection>>>>>

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That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

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That 617 Life Podcast: Who made who? Bill Belichick or Tom Brady

The people's court is now in session. The topic of debate: Who made who, Bill Belichick or Tom Brady?

The two New England Patriots greats will always be inextricably linked for the success they've had in creating the Patriots dynasty. Together, the duo has won six Super Bowl titles and has overseen the most dominant two-decade stretch in NFL history.

Still, the question of who is chiefly responsible for the team's success has long been a debate among the New England faithful. And this week, Shanda, Cerrone, and Leroy take a deeper dive into the case for both sides on the latest episode of "That 617 Life Podcast".

Cerrone kicks off the "trial" by defending Brady, arguing that his on-field play and his arrival to the team snapped the Patriots out of the funk that they were in for most of the early part of their franchise's existence.

[The Patriots] were the team that nobody wanted to use in TecmoBowl. Now, for everybody in America, you're cheating if you use Tom Brady in Madden.

Furthermore, from Cerrone:

There's teams in the NFL over the past 20 years that still haven't defeated Tom Brady. Still, over 20 seasons. There are organizations and fan bases that still have not seen a victory in front of Tom Brady.

As for the case for Belichick, Leroy laid out a simple case for Belichick and called him "possibly the greatest coach in sports history."

Hear more of the trial and thoughts on the latest Boston sports stories on the latest episode of the "That 617 Life Podcast", which drops every Friday as part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

CURRAN: Are we watching Brady's final day with the Patriots?>>>

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Report: Patriots expected to re-sign Nick Folk on Saturday

Report: Patriots expected to re-sign Nick Folk on Saturday

It's no longer a mystery who will kick for the New England Patriots vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

The Patriots are expected to officially re-sign Nick Folk on Saturday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Folk was released by the team and replaced with Kai Forbath prior to last week's game vs. the Houston Texans after undergoing an appendectomy.

In three games with the Patriots this season, Folk has made seven of nine field goals and all three extra-point attempts. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.