Posted: 7/9/2021 17:16:37 PM
FOXBOROUGH – One thing that was apparent looking at the Patriots’ offense last season was the lack of reliable pass-catching options quarterback Cam Newton had at his disposal.
This was an important point during the offseason, one that coach Bill Belichick sought to improve with the addition of tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
Soon after signing free agent contracts, the two tried to get acquainted with Newton, making trips to meet the quarterback for informal pitching sessions.
Those workouts turned out to be moot when the Patriots surprised a lot of people in the NFL by freeing Newton at the end of training camp and elevating rookie Mac Jones to the starting position.
This shone a light on Jones, whose first out-of-the-gate game will be against a Dolphins defense that features 2020 interception leader Xavien Howard.
It also underscored the importance of Smith and Henry, who will be relied on even more to help relieve their young quarterback. Smith said he was excited about Jones, adding that he was ready to give him whatever support he could to make him a successful first outing on Sunday.
“He took that role and he did a great job. That’s why he’s where he is, ”Smith said. “He does everything he’s supposed to do. … We’re just ready to roll for him.
Smith and Henry were slowed down by injuries at different times this summer, Henry suffered from a shoulder problem and Smith from a leg injury.
But they entered game one on Monday with no training restrictions, a good sign for them and Jones as the Patriots prepare to open the season with back-to-back division games.
“We missed it for a little while at camp because we weren’t both there, but it’s fun once we’re out there and rolling,” Henry said of the construction of chemistry with Smith. “It’s a good competition. Just being able to build that chemistry with him while we’re in the field. Speak through things, see how I see things, how he sees things. Bounce things off each other.
Over the past two seasons, a Patriots tight end squad that included Devin Asiasi, Ben Watson, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse and Dalton Keene combined for just 54 catches for 672 yards and three touchdowns.
Asiasi is the only one of that group currently on the roster, leaving plenty of room for Henry and Smith to make their marks in 2021.
Smith and Henry combined 101 catches and 12 touchdowns last season.
Henry’s recent injury kept him out for more than two weeks during training camp, which may have put him too far away physically to be ready for Sunday’s opener.
When asked if he doubted he was ready to go, he said he was only focusing on the program the training staff offered him.
“I’m just trying to improve myself every day and you know, apply myself every day and be ready to go when that happens,” he said.
How Smith and Henry perform when they’re on the pitch together this season will depend on how the duo share the workload in blocking the run and in the passing game.
Smith said the synergy in practice is where it needs to be at this point.
“It was great, just feeding us on each other’s energy,” Smith said. “Working out, pushing each other, on the training ground, in the weight room. Two dominant males, man, just able to give each other a helping hand. Most importantly, he’s my guy, and I’m her guy. We support each other. I have his back. I know he supports me.