Making forward progress

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- And in this week's edition of "Tom and his New Targets," what did we learn?

Mainly, that as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady acclimates to a revamped receiving corps (the Patriots could become the first team since the 1997 New Orleans Saints to open a season without its top five pass-catchers from the previous year), he sees some encouraging signs with the young pups of the group. Second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson (Marshall), fourth-rounder Josh Boyce (Texas Christian) and rookie free-agent Kenbrell Thompkins (Cincinnati) have caught a lot of passes from Brady through the first seven practices of training camp -- easily the highest volume of any first-year player in Brady's previous training camps as the starter -- and there is a common thread that binds them in Brady's view.

"They're smart kids that want to work hard and have really come into this environment and really taken to everything that the coaches have tried to talk to them about, everything that I've tried to talk to them about," Brady said Friday, one day before his 36th birthday, which he'll celebrate with a 9 a.m. practice. "That's been the fun part; when guys are eager to come in and learn, listen and try to do the right thing."

The smarts are imperative in a Patriots' offense that is celebrating its 14th birthday this year. Yes, this is, in many ways, the same offense that Bill Belichick and then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis first installed in 2000, Belichick's first year as coach.

It's grown each year since. And then grown some more on top of that, to the point that it can be a pretty intimidating playbook for a rookie receiver. Just ask Bethel Johnson (2003), P.K. Sam (2004), Chad Jackson (2006), Brandon Tate (2009) and Taylor Price (2010).

But to this point, Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins have been up to the challenge, adapting at a level that hasn't been seen by a rookie receiver in this system since Deion Branch (2002).

It's still early, no doubt, and also important to keep in mind that things can always change. They haven't even played in a game yet. Still, it's clear that Brady also sees the potential in the rookie receivers, who when put together with free-agent signee Danny Amendola and the returning Julian Edelman project to comprise a receiver depth chart that is almost a complete overhaul from 2012.

"They all have different skill sets," Brady said Friday. "It's about us trying to use what they do best and trying to get them incorporated and them finding a role for themselves. Nothing has been established at this point, we're seven or eight practices in, so I think we're trying to see what people can do on a consistent basis.

"In offensive football, everyone has to be on the same page. That's why we come out, we talk after practice, we watch the film, we talk about it after, we have walk-throughs and talk about throws and signals and routes and techniques. All of that is for anticipation because when you really believe in the guys you're out there with, you can play fast, you can play with anticipation, you can play with confidence. If you don't have that confidence, it slows you down, and then when it slows you down then you're going to make mistakes."

There have been plenty of those on display through the team's first seven practices. Brady's tolerance for them seems like it has been greater than in past years, in part because there has been a getting-to-know process that has to take place for the offense to get where it wants to go.

"There are a lot of new guys, we're making mistakes, we're trying to learn from the mistakes," he said. "Offensive football is about 11 guys being on the same page and really being able to anticipate what each other are trying to do. The challenging part of offense is when you get new guys and they're not really sure when I'm throwing it and I'm not really sure when they're going to break and a lot of it we just have to work out.

"The more reps we get, the better we're going to be, so just to get out here every day and make these types of improvements is important, because you can't go out and miss three or four days of practice because you just get so far behind, especially this time of year.

"Our offense is a lot of communication," Brady continued. "You've got to just throw as much in there as you can and see what we can pick up. It's not really a slow-paced offense. You need to think fast, you've got to communicate well, everybody's got to be on the same page, so it's hard to slow down something for one person. The train's moving at this point. It takes really smart football players to be in this system, and guys that have done well have been smart players who can adjust quickly."

The rookies have been up to the task to this point. Meanwhile, Amendola has been sharp from the get-go and Edelman, who caught 21 passes in nine games last season, came off the physically unable to perform list Thursday.

That's where things stand in this week's edition of "Tom and his New Targets," which has been the dominating storyline of training camp.