Rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was one of the bright spots in the Patriots' 40-9 loss to the Lions. One of the more impressive parts of his performance was his ability to get off the line of scrimmage and win early in his route.
We saw it specifically on two plays:
1. A 37-yard catch down the left sideline in the first quarter, with rookie Darius Slay (second round pick, Mississippi State) in coverage.
2. A 27-yard catch down the right sideline in the second quarter, with veteran Chris Houston (7th year, 79 career regular-season starts) in coverage.
Those are two pretty solid cornerbacks -- one highly-touted in the draft, the other a solid veteran who has been around the block and knows some tricks of the trade.
To see an undrafted free agent win so decisively in those matchups, specifically at the line of scrimmage, was notable.
This was a topic that was brought up to Bill Belichick during his regular day-after-game conference call. Had the Patriots seen that ability from Thompkins when scouting him, or is it something that has developed since he arrived?
"I think that's an area that all rookie receivers need to work on and haven't had a lot of experience with; there isn't a whole lot of press coverage in college," Belichick answered. "There are a couple of teams that do it, but there's not a whole lot of them. So that's something that every receiver needs a lot of work on. I would say the same thing with the defensive backs."
As for the skills that Thompkins has shown to be successful in that area, Belichick didn't necessarily want to start getting into superlatives. After all, it was just one preseason game.
The point he made was that the challenge for a player like Thompkins will vary on a week to week basis.
"We'll have to see how that goes. He made a couple nice plays last night, but working against different corners with different skill sets is going to match up individually, whether it's quickness or speed, or size, or whatever it happens to be, technique. There are different ways to win out there. They may not be all the same, depending on who the opponent is that he's facing or the technique that they're playing. So that's why players have to be good at more than one thing, or have more than one skill, or eventually that one thing gets shuts down by a particular technique or a certain type of player. Then the player loses his effectiveness.
"For KT, he just needs to work on the whole process out there, against different guys, and different techniques, and being able to deal with whatever the challenges he faces on the perimeter, be it the individual player or the technique that the guy is playing."