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Rookies have been the story of Patriots training camp this year. We all knew this would be a transition year when the Pats drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce to accomodate the loss of Wes Welker via free agency. Now, with Welker having the time of his life in Denver, Rob Gronkowksi still on the PUP list and Aaron Hernandez LOLing about the lack of internet in his jail cell, Dobson and Boyce currently combine with fellow rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld to make up four of Tom Brady's top five options in the passing game.

At first glance, this seems to be asking a lot from the team's rookies. The Patriots offense has earned its reputation for being tough to learn by stumping veteran additions such as Chad Ochocinco in the past. The Patriots have rarely attempted to assimilate rookie receivers into the offense in the past, and have had mostly disastrous results when they've tried. You have to go all the way back to Deion Branch in 2002 to find a receiver with meaningful contributions during his rookie year. In 2006 we traded the pick that turned into Greg Jennings to Green Bay for the privilege of moving up in the draft to get Chad Jackson. Yikes.

This doesn't even factor in the dangers of the "rookie wall". An NFL season is much longer and more physically demanding than College, leading many productive rookies to have their level of play drop in the second half of the year as fatigue catches up with them. Patriots fans can look at Chandler Jones last year to see a perfect example of that (although an ankle injury also contributed to Jones' second half fade).

Despite all this, I do not think the team is over-reliant on rookies. I say this because the strong veteran core of the team is already set. Tom Brady is the quarterback. You have a strong offensive line that is returning all five starters. You have a productive and talented group of running backs. You will presumably have two excellent veteran receiving targets (Gronk and Danny Amendola) who will be the focal points of the passing attack. The offense is not counting on their rookies to carry the offense on their backs. It's merely asking them to come in and give the team some production in a supporting role.

In that sense, the circumstances in training camp could arguably be beneficial to the team in the long haul. Gronk's current absence means even more reps and targets for the rookies, giving them ample time to get acclimated into the offense and build crucial chemistry with Brady. As long as Gronk returns at full strength as expected, the offense will be more than fine. In fact, it could have gained several additional playmakers thanks to the extensive time the rookies have gotten this preseason.

Finally, it's important to note that the forecast would not be so sunny if the rookies didn't look up to the task. If they were struggling, there would be a lot more hand-wringing over the loss of Welker and the injury status of Gronk. These kids have serious talent and have earned both the first team reps and the glowing reports from the press that they are getting. It's obvious that the Patriots didn't plan to rely this much on rookies this year (the common consensus during the spring was that Gronk would be back and Hernandez wouldn't be hit with murder charges a month before training camp), but so far all indications are that these rookies are up to the unexpected task.

Ned Brady 8/14/2013 02:29:00 PM Edit
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