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Checking in on Patriots rookies halfway through their first season

10.28.13 at 8:00 am ET

Over the first eight games of the 2013 season, the Patriots rookies continue to become more important pieces of the puzzle on both sides of the ball. While the majority of the focus has been on receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, a solid grouping of rookies has emerged on defense, including defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones and defensive back Logan Ryan.

According to veteran defensive back Devin McCourty, it’s easy to see why the group has improved over the last few games.

“They’re not thinking about it. They’re just saying, ‘I’m up. This is my opportunity,’ and they’re just going out there are playing,” said McCourty, who added that it hasn’t necessarily been a case of the rookies asking too many questions.

“We don’t go up to them and tell them. They just have to execute what their job is,” he said. “Go out there and make plays. ‘You wouldn’t be in this opportunity if we didn’t feel like you couldn’t be out there making plays,’ so guys like Chris and Joe up front, making pays like they’re doing, we expect that out of them. They’re here for a reason. They’re just doing their job, and it’s been great.”

And at this point, it’s clear they are rookies in name only.

“It’s getting close [at this point],” McCourty said. “At this point, they’ve played a full preseason, a full training camp, a good amount of games ‘€¦ they’re still rookies on paper, but they still can’t play like rookies and act like rookies, especially with things that have happened on our team. Those guys, I think they’re ready for that role.”

Here’s a quick thumbnail check on how the New England rookies have done to this point in the season.

Aaron Dobson: Dobson had one of the finest games of his rookie season Sunday against the Dolphins, coming away with four catches on five targets for 60 yards and a touchdown. (For Dobson, he now has a three-game stretch of 13 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown.) Overall, through seven games (four starts), the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder out of Marshall has 26 catches for 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Kenbrell Thompkins: The undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati had a good start — including a six-catch, 127-yard performance against the Falcons, as well as the game-winning touchdown catch against the Saints — on the way to 23 catches for 334 yards and four touchdowns through eight games. He’s struggled as of late for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that his early success drew the attention of some opposing defensive coordinators. As a result, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has drawn tougher and tougher assignments over the last few weeks.

Chris Jones: The defensive tackle was hit with the most notable penalty of the season when he was part of the late push in the loss to the Jets in New Jersey. But aside from that error, the 6-foot-1, 309-pounder out of Bowling Green has played very well — in five games (three starts) he has 25 tackles (11 solo) and 4.5 sacks, including one in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins.

Logan Ryan: The 5-foot-11, 195-pound cornerback out of Rutgers has made quick a splash over the last two games. He had two sacks and a forced fumble in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. That was on the heels of a pick-six last week against the Jets (the same game where he was hit with a $10,000 fine for a crotch grab). With Aqib Talib on the shelf, Ryan has gained more playing time, and he has evolved into a dependable presence, particularly while working in the slot.

Duron Harmon: The defensive back has provided depth at safety and on special teams through the first half of his first year in the NFL. The Rutgers product, who checks in at 6 feet, 205 pounds, picked off a pass at the end of Sunday’s win over the Dolphins.

Michael Buchanan: The 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end out of Illinois had a good start to the season while working as a part-time pass rusher, seeing the majority of his time on the edge when the Patriots kicked Chandler Jones in to the defensive tackle spot on occasion. His reps have decreased as of late, but he still has five tackles and two sacks through the first eight games of his NFL career.

Josh Boyce: The wide receiver out of TCU has taken three healthy scratches over the course of the first eight games of the season and appears to be on track to take a redshirt year as a rookie. (It was a path Shane Vereen took in 2011.) The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Boyce has played in five games — with one start — and has one catch for 24 yards.

Joe Vellano: Vellano has teamed with Jones up front to serve as an impressive pair of stopgap tackles who have seen a huge uptick in playing time since Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly went down with injuries. Vellano. a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder out of Maryland, has played in eight games (four starts) and has 32 tackles (10 solo), to go along with one sack.

Steve Beauharnais: The linebacker out of Rutgers has taken a handful of healthy scratches over the first eight games of his NFL career but has shown himself to be a solid special teamer who can also provide depth at the linebacker spot. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has played in one game to this point in the season.

Jamie Collins: The versatile linebacker out of Southern Miss has played multiple spots on defense for New England, and with Jerod Mayo landing on season-ending injured reserve earlier this month, the Patriots likely will continue to ask him to do more going forward. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Collins has played in eight games (with two starts) and has 14 tackles (six solo).

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Chris Jones, Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins



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