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Amendola Won't Carry Burden In New England

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Aaron Dobson #17 of Marshall University leads participants through a running drill during the New England Patriots Rookie Camp at Gillette Stadium. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.
Aaron Dobson #17 of Marshall University leads participants through a running drill during the New England Patriots Rookie Camp at Gillette Stadium. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images.

By now, Patriots fans have caught on to the fact that things will be different offensively for the team in 2013.

It all started with Wes Welker signing in Denver. And so went Tom Brady’s favorite and most reliable target from the past few seasons. Welker’s constant production led to five 100-plus catch seasons in his six years with the Patriots, and helped the team reach two Super Bowls.

Since the league’s best slot receiver will be catching passes from a former familiar foe in Peyton Manning, Bill Belichick and the rest of the team back east were forced to move on and find other options. Once Brandon Lloyd was cut and Deion Branch not re-signed, the only familiar faces for Brady became his tight end corps.

And move on they did. The Patriots brought in Danny Amendola from the Rams, who had varying success in his four typically injury-riddled seasons.

The early consensus was that Amendola would be brought in to slide right into Welker’s vacant role in the slot position. The hope was that he could take over his production numbers as well.

Then the team signed free agent wideouts Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, Julian Edelman and Lavelle Hawkins. Edelman, the lone familiar face, did some damage in the slot position in his previous years with the Patriots. But the others come in somewhat tested by other teams from around the league.

And finally, the Patriots made a splash in the draft at the position with Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and unsigned free agent wide receivers T.J. Moe, Kenbrell Thompkins and Mark Harrison, all of whom could find success easily in this offense without much public recognition.

What, exactly, Patriots fans around New England and the nation have already figured out is that it’s a new-look offense. What some are still grappling with, however, is how the load this upcoming year won’t fall entirely on Amendola.

Yes, Welker hauled in over 100 catches in five of the past six seasons. But that was the way the offense was built. Since Randy Moss’ departure from New England, the Patriots have severely lacked a viable outside receiving threat. It’s not easy to find a Calvin Johnson-like receiver with a combination of speed, a big frame and the ability to catch passes with defenders draped all over him.

Once the tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) were selected in 2010, they gave Brady added targets. The problem, however, was that almost all of the offense was down the middle – Welker running short in-routes and Gronkowski and Hernandez running middle slants.

Maybe that’s why it’s hard for Patriots fans to envision a diverse offense. But it’s borderline ridiculous to think that Amendola will see over 170 targets in 2013 from Brady (Welker was targeted 172 and 174 times in 2011 and 2012, respectively), and catch over 100 passes with a variety of options available to Brady.

Although they’re young and inexperienced, Dobson and Boyce should transition well to the NFL as outside threats, while any combination of Jones, Jenkins and Hawkins (depending on who makes the final roster) provides veteran leadership at the position.

The point of this revised offensive scheme is that targets don’t have to fall largely on one player. Amendola, regardless of his health issues, simply shouldn’t need to see that many passes come his way with other talent, including the tight ends, to occupy Brady’s focus. And after last season, the Patriots proved they have a solid ground game in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, which adds yet another dimension to this unit. Patriots fans will see soon enough that this offense won’t center around one weapon.