Hogan Could Be the Go-to Guy
By Karen Guregian
FOXBORO -- Eric Decker officially joined the Patriots receivers club on Saturday, jumping into a pool with others looking to hurry-up and get on the same page with Tom Brady.
Beyond adding much-needed depth, it’s hard to say what his impact will be with any certainty. Because what the Patriots appear to be lacking is something Decker can’t provide right away.
Can he quickly morph into a go-to-guy on third down? Will he be someone Brady looks to in must-make situations when he’s up against it?
That would help, because the fear this year is that the cupboard is practically bare in that department. Already, there’s a bit of panic over Brady not having enough pass catchers he trusts with the game on the line.
Danny Amendola, his best third-down target and clutch receiver last season, is now in Miami with the Dolphins.
Julian Edelman, meanwhile, his best chain mover and go-to-receiver, will be out the first four games serving his PED suspension.
That’s a lot of dependability not walking through the huddle on game day. But does it mean the Patriots quarterback can’t survive with what’s left?
While the wide receiver group is thin, largely unproven, and doesn’t have a ton of reps and quality time with Brady, there are others in the realm of the offense who can deliver in the clutch.
When Brady needed to pull out the Pittsburgh game last year during Week 15, down 24-19 with 2:06 to play, he went to Rob Gronkowski repeatedly. It was like no one else was on the field, hitting him with three straight passes for 79 yards en route to a touchdown.
So there’s still the best tight end, and one of the best offensive weapons in the league at his disposal. Of course, defenses will double team Gronk, and try and take him away.
In that case, where else might Brady turn?
There’s third-down back James White. He was the man in Super Bowl LI. Down 25 points late in the third quarter, when Brady had to keep making plays, he kept finding White, who caught a Super Bowl record 14 passes.
Brady is also comfortable with Chris Hogan. He’s made strides and gained Brady’s trust. He’s been in the special side sessions with Brady during training camp practices.
Hogan wants to be that guy, the one Brady looks to in those gotta-have-it situations.
“I think a lot of that comes down to your competitive nature. You want to be that guy,” Hogan said. “I would love to . . . hopefully me and (No. 12) can be on the same page and I can be that guy at the end of the day. But I also have to focus on doing what’s best for the team, and doing my job, and doing my assignment correctly.”
Sure, he’d love to do what Amendola did against the Jaguars during the AFC Championship Game when the Pats made their comeback. He’d love to be on the receiving end of those must-make Brady passes.
With Amendola gone, Edelman out, and the focus of defenses sure to be on Gronk, Hogan wants Brady to know he can depend on him. But Hogan believes there are plenty of guys capable of Brady’s attention. Rex Burkhead is another back who will catch passes in a pinch. Phillip Dorsett and tight end Jacob Hollister are others who have been asked to join the side sessions, run by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Dorsett has made great strides already, making contested catches coming back for passes during 11-on-11 sessions. That is sure to win Brady’s trust.
“I think it’s important for us to be trusted (by Tom) on every single down,” said Hogan. “Obviously, there’s a lot of stress on third down because if you don’t convert, you’re off the field. Right now, we’re all working on that trust.”
On Saturday, there was a lot of that trust-building going on, as many of the primary receivers (Edelman, Hogan, Dorsett, Decker) and Gronk spent time with Brady working on routes and timing.
So maybe No. 12 is adding on.
“Those sessions are great,” said Hogan. “We get to work one-on-one with that group of guys with Tom and Josh (McDaniels) and Chad (O’Shea). You get to work on stuff you’re not going to get in practice . . . you try to take advantage, five ten minutes, whatever it is, to work on stuff you can build off of leading up to the season.”
Last season, without Edelman the full year, the Patriots offense was 10th overall when it came to converting on third down (40.6 percent , 82-of-202).
For the most part, the plays were made when needed.
“You have to show him in practice, you have to gain his trust. You have to be accountable,” said Edelman. “That’s what this part of the season is for, developing those relationships. Practice repetition becoming game reality . . . we’ll be all right.”