As you looked over the Patriots offense at mini-camp, a lot of players were wearing numbers like 13, 14, 18 and 19. Those numbers belong to the receivers Tom Brady was throwing to during the Patriots first three days of official practices this season. As a matter of fact, with David Givens now in Tennessee and Deion Branch choosing not to attend mini-camp, only one receiver present had had ever caught a pass from Brady in an NFL game. That player is 14-year veteran Troy Brown.
Assuming Branch returns, that would mean him, Brown, Reche Caldwell and rookie Chad Jackson have the inside track to be the Patriots top four receivers. That leaves unproven players like Bam Childress, Erik Davis, Michael McGrew, Rich Musinski, Matt Shelton, Zuriel Smith and John Stone battling for the last one or two roster spots.
Out of the group of young receivers currently on the Patriots roster, Childress could be the one who steps out of the crowd and earns a roster spot.
Despite being only 5-10 and 185 pounds, Childress may have a slight advantage over the other receivers because he's had a year in the Patriots system. He spent almost all of last year on the practice squad but was called up for the final game of the season against the Dolphins, catching three passes for 32 yards in his first NFL game.
Now, entering his second season in New England, Childress feels like he's better prepared to make more of a contribution on the field.
"I feel a lot more comfortable this year," he said. "Right now it's just learning the ins and outs but I have a better idea of what's happening on the field. It's easier because I don't have to think as much, like I did last year as a rookie. Things come more naturally to me now. I know what I have to do, so I just go out there and do it."
Childress was primarily a third receiver in college while at Ohio State. During his four-year career, he only started seven games and caught 33 passes. He did play behind some pretty good players, including Michael Jenkins and Santonio Holmes - two future first-round draft picks. Looking over Childress' college career, people probably wouldn't expect him to make much of a splash in the NFL but the second-year receiver attributes his work ethic for making the team last year and his rise up the depth chart.
"I'm in this position now because of hard work," Childress said. "Plain and simple. I have been able to learn from some of the best receivers under six-feet in the NFL. When I watch Troy or Deion, I emulate how they play because I know if I work hard it's going to pay off."
Childress - who is the cousin of Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey - also lined up at defensive back against the Dolphins, causing some to tout him as the next Troy Brown.
When asked if he expected to be playing in the secondary this season, Childress laughed.
"Probably not. I mean, I'll do anything that's asked of me but we have some pretty good players back there now. If they need me in the secondary, I'll be happy to play there but right now I think the team just wants me to focus on playing receiver and getting better there."
For the entire story on all the young receivers trying to make the Patriots roster, check out the latest edition of Patriots Football Weekly available on newsstands July 12. To subscribe to Patriots Football Weekly, go to www.pfwonline.com.