When Tom Brady played in last year’s opener, none of his top five pass catchers from the previous season were in uniform.
When he starts this season Sunday, the nine players with the most receptions last year for the New England Patriots should be ready to catch his throws.
“I hope we’re at a better place than we were last year because we started pretty fresh last year,” Brady said Wednesday. “We certainly have some new players, some new additions who are doing different things. Different guys are playing some different spots. But everyone’s kind of got to find a role for themselves, and then we go out there and let it rip and see where we’re at.”
In 2012, Patriots wide receivers and tight ends caught 346 passes. In the 2013 opener, players who caught just 26 of those passes were active.
Last year, those positions produced 296 receptions for the Patriots. Players who caught 279 of them are expected to play Sunday at the Miami Dolphins.
“The more we’re on the same page, the better we’re going to be,” Brady said. “Offensive football is about anticipation and about having a lot of trust and confidence in one another. I think we built on that.”
The Patriots began last season with a new veteran wide receiver, Danny Amendola, and three rookies — Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce. Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the first six games following forearm and back surgery.
This season’s newcomers are wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who had a career-high 49 catches last season, his fourth with Carolina, and tight end Tim Wright, who had 54 receptions as a rookie last season with Tampa Bay.
LaFell has had plenty of time to adjust to the Patriots system after signing as a free agent on March 17. A turning point came in the week leading up to the preseason opener at Washington when the Patriots practiced with the Redskins.
“I started getting a little comfortable in this offense probably after the joint practices against the Redskins,” he said. “It was going against somebody else who hasn’t seen what we run every day in practice. After a while you go against your defense every day. They know your calls. They know your checks.”
Wright has had much less time to prepare.
The Patriots obtained him for six-time Pro-Bowl guard Logan Mankins on Aug 26. Two days later, Wright caught four passes, all from rookie Jimmy Garoppolo, in a 16-13 preseason loss to the New York Giants.
Brady will be doing the throwing Sunday.
“He’s a great quarterback and we’re trying to do as much as we can on the side, just trying to get that connection down,” Wright said. “Tom (and) the coaches are going to do a good job getting me ready and I’m going to feel confident on game day.”
Wright came to the NFL as a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver who wasn’t drafted out of Rutgers. He was converted to tight end by the Buccaneers and gives the Patriots an athletic pass catcher.
“We’re trying to get to know each other and spend extra time communicating, gain his understanding of the things that he expects versus my expectations. It’s really a learning process,” Brady said. “If he’s out there, if they don’t cover him. I’ll probably throw him the ball.”
Wright was happy to hear that from the 15-year veteran who has been his teammate barely a week.
“I feel good about it, just trying to go out there and be consistent and try to earn his trust,” Wright said. “Just know I could be a person that he could rely on.”
The biggest addition is Gronkowski, who played just seven games last season then missed the last three of the regular season plus two in the playoffs with a knee injury. He said Monday that he will play Sunday after missing all four preseason games.
Coach Bill Belichick wasn’t ready to declare that publicly.
“We’re going to do what we always do, which is evaluate the players and select the active roster based on the players that we feel give our team the best opportunity to win this week,” he said. “That’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we’ll do for this team for every player and every situation. How that will turn out, I don’t know.”
NOTES: The Patriots released defensive linemen Bruce Gaston and Kelcy Quarles. They also released safety Charley Hughlett from the practice squad.