When the Patriots placed N'Keal Harry on injured reserve on Monday it wasn't because they were so loaded at the receiver position with surefire success stories that they could afford to give their dinged-up No. 1 pick eight weeks to slowly build back to full speed.
If anything, a couple of the moves they made on Labor Day Weekend served as indications that the Patriots were willing to gamble with a couple of their 53-man roster spots just to fill out the back end of their receiver depth chart.
They re-signed Demaryius Thomas — the plan all along after they released him Saturday — who is coming off a torn Achilles he suffered in December. He's a 31-year-old in a new offense, with a new quarterback, who missed almost the entirety of training camp on the physically unable to perform list, who admitted recently that when it comes to his explosiveness, "I can feel it certain days and certain days I can't."
They kept Gunner Olszewski on the active roster Saturday after informing him earlier in the day that he'd been released. The Division 2 corner at Bemidji State was only asked to try out by two NFL teams, and the Patriots have asked him to change positions. Though he's taken to it well, as he has his responsibilities as a return man, he only first started seeing relatively consistent reps with Tom Brady at quarterback when others at the position suffered injuries during joint practices in Tennessee three weeks into training camp.
Undrafted rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers would be the No. 4 receiver on the team in terms of practice experience with Brady. Julian Edelman obviously heads that list, followed by Phillip Dorsett and Josh Gordon. Question marks abound with this group, particularly after Harry was placed on IR.
On WEEI's Greg Hill show Tuesday, Brady was asked for his confidence level in the position at the moment.
"I think we're certainly working at it," Brady said. "The quarterback-receiver relationship is very unique. I've played with a lot of great players, a lot of great receivers. I feel like I know what a good receiver plays like, what their attitude is like. There's a lot of diff styles for receivers. You look at a Randy Moss and you look at a Wes Welker. You look at all these different players that have different size, different speed, different abilities. You try to formulate that group to put the most pressure on the defense.
"Our group has been formulated. Not many of the guys have been out there that long. I have, obviously, a lot of experience with Julian. I have a lot of experience with Phil. I have some experience with Josh, very limited with Demaryius, N'Keal, and Jakobi and Gunner. It's one thing to predict how it's gonna go. It's another to actually go do it."
What complicates things further is that Brady doesn't have a Hall of Fame-caliber tight end on the roster to try to shoulder some of the pass-catching responsibilities in the Patriots offense. Ryan Izzo, a second-year player who spent his rookie season on IR, looks like the starter as veteran free-agent acquisition Matt LaCosse deals with an ankle injury.
The running back group could try to alleviate whatever might ail the Patriots passing game early in the season. James White was second in the NFL among running backs in targets and third in receptions with 87. He'll once again be one of Brady's top targets. Rex Burkhead has been a factor in the passing game when healthy, and both Damien Harris and Sony Michel have flashed some ability as pass-catchers during camp this summer.
They'll need help wherever they can get it in 2019 because the receiving corps, while loaded up with some big names, carries with it little in the way of certainty. At least at the moment. Even Brady is willing to acknowledge that as they head into their first game of the season, they have a ways to go before he's able to anticipate their every move the way he'd like.
"We're gonna try to put as much work as we can in from now until the end of the season for us to be at our best," he said. "We're not a finished product. We won't be for a long time. But we're gonna try to build every single day [on the] opportunity that we have to get better and communicate. That's what we're going to try to do.
"Like everything else, the more you do it, the more you're together, the more you anticipate, the more you can have confidence and trust in one another. That's what we're trying to get to."
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