Thursday, May 24, 2012
Brandon Lloyd's opening gambit
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last time the New England Patriots played a game that counted, they most often lined up with receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch alongside tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Their opponent in Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants, countered with a three-safety package that effectively focused on taking the middle of the field away. The plan was sound because if there is one area that Welker, Branch, Gronkowski and Hernandez threaten most, it's between the numbers -- short to intermediate. The approach also spoke volumes about how the Giants' viewed the Patriots' passing game -- there was no true vertical threat, and there wasn't much to worry about on the outer edges of the field.
The Patriots are undoubtedly hoping that Brandon Lloyd can provide a bigger boost than Chad Ochocinco did last season.
Bill Belichick, based on his offseason moves, must have seen the attack's deficiencies the same way.
Welcome, Brandon Lloyd.
Come on down, Donte' Stallworth.
You too, Jabar Gaffney.
This is one area of note from watching the Patriots work in Thursday's organized team activity at Gillette Stadium. In a session that featured a lot of work in the passing game, the addition of the outside threat stood out, particularly when the 6-foot, 188-pound Lloyd was on the field.
At one point in 7-on-7 drills, Lloyd lined up to the left of quarterback Tom Brady, while Branch and Welker were on the opposite side. Lloyd might not have blazing speed like other outside receivers, but he sure seems to accelerate quickly to suddenly put the cornerback lined up across from him in a backpedal, which is the type of skill set that nicely complements what the Patriots already have. What he does after that is also appealing.
"Brandon is smart, he has very good hands and catch skills, and the ability to kind of take the ball out of a crowd or make that acrobatic catch when it seems like the defender is all over him," Belichick said in a recent appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio. "He's an outside receiver that hopefully will give a little more balance to our passing game with the other guys we have out there."
That balance, which perhaps Belichick was thinking veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco was going to provide in 2011, could have made the difference in Super Bowl XLVI.
So while the Patriots still figure to feature their lethal multiple tight end package with Gronkowski and Hernandez this season, adding a productive outside threat like Lloyd potentially could make an explosive offense that much tougher to defend. At least that's the idea.
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Lloyd had said as much prior to signing with the Patriots, although he wasn't interested in revisiting those comments Thursday. Instead, he downplayed his potential role as a difference-maker, holding a quick Q&A session with reporters with little elaboration.
He said the Patriots' system is similar to his time in Denver and St. Louis under current New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and it's one he feels suits him best. That has eased his transition to a new team in a region he didn't know much about.
"I'm familiar with the nuances of the offense, so that definitely helps," he said. "[The system is] effective for the way I run routes and catch the ball."
The 30-year-old Lloyd, who has played for the 49ers (2003-05), Redskins (2006-07), Bears (2008), Broncos (2009-11) and Rams (2011), noted that he's never been part of a club with as many talented weapons. He's viewed as a lock to make the final roster along with Welker, and then there's a group including Branch, Gaffney, Stallworth, Ochocinco, Julian Edelman and Anthony Gonzalez competing for what could be three spots.
There might not be a better competition at one position on another team in the NFL.
"However the lineup falls, it's going to be a talented group of players," said Lloyd, who was coached by Belichick in the 2010 Pro Bowl. "There are a lot of pass-catchers on this team who have been effective, not only on this team but in other parts of their career. So only time will tell."
Patriots cornerbacks that have gone up against Lloyd in recent days talked about his fluid movements, calling him a good athlete who adjusts to the ball well.
This was easily seen in drills Thursday.
No one is reading too much into a non-pads practice in May, but when it comes to first impressions and how Lloyd's presence on the outside might help the Patriots' attack, he looks like exactly what the team was missing in 2011.