FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — One of the things Rob Gronkowski’s absence in the Patriots’ offense last season highlighted was the inexperience in their receiving group.
A looming presence at 6-foot-6, Gronk was a threat to make big plays whenever he was on the field and he in turn opened throwing lanes for his teammates.
But without him the offense suffered as Tom Brady struggled to build chemistry with rookie receivers N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers.
Brady’s departure, a disjointed offseason and truncated training camp have created more issues for New England’s offense in 2020. But those are challenges the trio feels more equipped to tackle in Year 2.
“I think I learned just like everybody else did last year,” said Olszewski, who converted to receiver as a rookie after playing cornerback in college. “We’re all new receivers in the NFL. And this is our second year as NFL receivers. I don’t consider myself more behind or ahead of anybody. I’ve been a receiver since I’ve been here, and that’s the position I play.”
As Brady worked to cultivate trust with the new faces on offense last season, veteran Julian Edelman did his best to pick up the slack, leading the Patriots with 100 catches for 1,117 yards and six touchdowns.
But the remaining seven receivers on the roster combined for only 117 catches and 10 touchdowns. Harry, the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2019, had two of those TDs but played just seven games before going on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
While it wasn’t the rookie season he expected, Harry said he’s taken a lot of lessons from it.
“I learned that in the NFL, you have to prove yourself day in and day out,” he said. “This is a league where nothing is given to you. You earn everything day by day. That’s my approach coming into this season and that’s my approach stepping on to the field every day.”
One of the things Harry focused on during the time off was his footwork, enlisting the help of trainer Rischad Whitfield, known as “The Footwork King” while working out this summer in Houston. According to Next Gen Stats, Harry ranked last among Patriots receivers with an average of 2.2 separation yards.
Receiver Mohamed Sanu said he’s already noticed improvement from Harry.
“I know he works at it every day. He’s trying to get better at the little details. Asks great questions. As a second-year player, that’s what you want to do,” Sanu said. “I know we want to get better and better at all the little, minor details — the intricacies in the offense. It’s great. All of the receivers — not just N’Keal — are working toward the same goal: trying to be consistent every day, snap after snap, play after play, meeting, walkthrough. I love it.”
Even with the pandemic impacting the offseason program, Meyers said he, Harry and Olzewski all stayed in touch and were the first to raise their hands when quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer reached out to organize some informal throwing sessions. They did the same with Cam Newton after he signed.
Meyers said he feels as if the bonds they began building last season and during those workouts this summer will benefit them going forward.
“I feel like we’re getting more comfortable with understanding what we have to bring to the team,” Meyers said. “This is a business. I feel like the more we’re around each other, the more we get comfortable with each other. We’ve got to understand this is a business and one day we could be here and one day we couldn’t be.”
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