No wonder Tom Brady was jumping up and down on the sidelines Thursday night at Ford Field.
As the 20-year NFL veteran with six Super Bowl rings was watching the back-ups take on the Detroit Lions, there was plenty of reason to think the quarterback won’t have a shortage of targets after all.
Obviously, it’s just one preseason game (a 31-3 rout of the passive Lions), but the skills that Jakobi Meyers and first-rounder N’Keal Harry showed off lead one to believe there will indeed be viable and very productive options behind Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett.
Meyers caught six passes on eight targets for 69 yards and two touchdowns while Harry caught the only two passes targeted for him before leaving with a tweak of his left leg. Throw in three catches a piece for Braxton Berrios and Mo Harris, and it was a night that left everyone watching with an optimistic feel about what was initially thought to be a serious concern heading into camp: Who will emerge as realistic targets in the receiving game beyond the Super Bowl LIII MVP?
A lot of this credit has to go to new receivers coach Joe Judge, who added those responsibilities to his existing job as Special Teams coordinator.
“Joe does a good job. Joe has a lot of responsibilities, and he does them very well,” Bill Belichick said Friday morning in lauding the remarkably intense and loyal Belichick assistant. “There are things for all of us on the coaching staff that we need to work on, and we’ll just keep working on them. That’s what preseason games are for, and training camp and so forth. We’ll just keep working individually and collectively as a staff to be more efficient and do a better job.”
There was plenty to feel good about in the mechanics that were on display Thursday, mechanics that Judge has worked on with the group. Right from the first drive, there was the hitch that Harry ran to get beyond the first down marker, extend toward the sideline and use his strong hands to grasp the ball and haul it in securely before hitting the turf. It was textbook stuff.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 9, 2019
There was Meyers breaking free on his two touchdown catches, generating enough release from the defender to let Brian Hoyer and then Jarrett Stidham find him in the end zone. When he wasn’t catching the passes in the end zone, he was breaking them up when Stidham underthrew his target in the fourth quarter. Meyers broke up a pass that would’ve been intercepted for a touchback.
As for Berrios, the second-year receiver out of Miami (Fla.), who sat out 2018, made the right moves to ensure he had the first-down yardage as he was running a fourth-down route in the second quarter.
“I think he’s had that. I think his improvement has come from his training, understanding the offense, and timing work with the quarterbacks,” Belichick noted. “Those are things that he didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do last year, especially early in the season, in training camp, and then later on he was able to train more.
“But, he still wasn’t able to work with the team, so this year he’s been able to do all of those and there’s no question that that’s helped him, and helped our team.”
Berrios also fielded four punts cleanly for 35 yards.
Then there was the play of the two quarterbacks vying for the back-up spot behind No. 12.
Brian Hoyer directed touchdown drives on New England’s second and third possessions. He finished 12-of-14 for 147 yards, two touchdowns and and a remarkable 150.0 quarterback rating. Jarrett Stidham was up to the challenge and, on his 23rd birthday, showed that he is a legitimate contender for the back-up spot, going 14-for-24 for 179 yards and the TD strike to Meyers in the second quarter.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 9, 2019
Perhaps just as important for Belichick and his staff evaluating the position was watching how a rookie handles different situations at game speed, including a drive to open the second half. Stidham had a mix of plays that featured plenty of time in the pocket to make reads downfield, pressure in the pocket from the right side and different looks from the defense.
“I think there were several plays that (covered) all of the categories really,” Belichick told me. “Quick throws where the read was clear and the receiver was open and then maybe a secondary read, and then there were a couple of times where he scrambled and extended the play.
“He ran a couple times and completed a pass to – I think it might have been the tight end, [Andrew] Beck or [Ryan] Izzo – but anyway, there was a little bit of everything there. The most important thing for the quarterback is not to turn the ball over, make good decisions, and throw accurately, so he did all of those at times.”
Next week, the learning curve for this passing game continues with three practices in Tennessee against the Titans followed by preseason game No. 2 on Aug. 17 in Nashville.