He's only in his second NFL season, but Odell Beckham Jr. is already one of the game's most exciting players. The Giants wide receiver not only impresses fans with his highlight-worthy catches, but opponents as well.
This week, a number of Patriots, including Bill Belichick, remarked about how impressive Beckham is to watch on tape. They'll get their first glimpse of him in a meaningful game this Sunday at MetLife Stadium. No one more so, perhaps, than cornerback Malcolm Butler, who has covered every Patriots opponent's top receiver so far this season.
"I look forward to it," Butler said. "I'm blessed to have this opportunity, blessed to go against the top receivers in the league, but it means nothing if you don't come out here and perform. But I accept the challenge, do it the best way I can and do anything to help my team win.
"[Beckham] made an outstanding one-handed catch [last season], but that means nothing to him. He wants to continue to strive, and everyone sees that. He's just a great player. The film don't lie."
"I think he can do everything on the field," observed safety/co-captain Devin McCourty. "I mean, he's one of their key guys in terms of catching the ball and being able to run. You also see him make some great catches down the field. Great body control. Goes up and gets the ball. You can tell he has really good hands. He's a tough matchup."
When asked to compare Beckham to another NFL player, McCourty was at a loss for words.
"I don't know… Beckham," he finally chuckled. "He's just a good football player. Throw the ball up to him, [if he's] covered, he makes the catch. If that's because of his size, his speed, his hands, I don't know, but he comes down with the catch. I don't know exactly what makes him a really good player, but he goes out each week and makes game-changing plays. We have to make sure that doesn't happen because he can ruin a game defensively."
It's not just Patriots defenders who respect Beckham's skills, either.
"Definitely. He's a stud," declared wide receiver Julian Edelman. "Unbelievable ball skills. He's tough, great run-after-catch [ability]. He can do it all."
"Yeah, he's a great player, great athlete," added wide receiver Danny Amendola. "He can do a lot of things at the receiver position. Catches the ball well, can run good routes, is tough. A lot of respect to him."
One that got away
Just a couple of offseasons ago, Edelman hit the free agent market and there was very little interest in him. In fact, Tom Coughlin's New York Giants were the only team to express interest in him before Edelman ultimately re-signed with New England.
This week, the Giants head coach lamented his team's inability to make Edelman an offer tempting enough to pry him away from the Patriots.
"I was very, very impressed with the young man. He was very serious, I kind of like those kind of guys. He was serious about his business and the game of football and what he was looking for. I certainly regret the fact that he's not in this uniform, but that's the way it goes… always appreciated the toughness that he brings to the game."
When asked to comment on Coughlin's kind words, Edelman exhibited that same seriousness to which Coughlin made reference.
"I just remember right now that I'm focusing on this week and the process that we're preparing for the New York Giants," said a stone-faced Edelman. "I'm not here to talk about the past."
Picture this: Gronk as punt returner
Edelman was among the various topics covered by Rob Gronkowski during his chat with the media Thursday. The All-Pro tight end was asked what impresses him most about his teammate and good buddy.
"Julian, I mean he's a beast for his size," Gronkowski began. "His quickness, his ability, his speed all together just forms him into the unbelievable player that he is. His variation of being able to play many positions – he's not just an unbelievable receiver out there. The skills he has at punt returning, and returning kicks is what I like seeing him most do. It's most impressive to me is him making everyone miss out there and getting yards for us so we can start on offense in good field position."
That led one reporter to ask astutely how Gronk thinks he could fare as a punt returner.
"I always wanted one," the big fellow grinned. "I think if I got some room and caught it on the move I think I could do some damage. Just don't let me catch it when there are already 100 guys in front of me. I need to be on my wheels already."
Another discouraging sign for LB Jamie Collins (illness), OL Sebastian Vollmer (concussion), OL Marcus Cannon (toe), and rookie OL Tre' Jackson (left knee), none of whom suited up for practice on Thursday. They were not present for Wednesday's walkthrough session, either.
On a positive note, however, DE Jabaal Sheard (ankle) looks more and more like he'll be able to return to game action this weekend. He's been sidelined since the second half against Indianapolis in Week 6.
New England also made a transaction on Thursday, signing a defensive lineman to the practice squad. He was wearing jersey number 70 at practice. The team has yet to announce the signing, but according to media reports, he is Robert Thomas. The University of Arkansas product entered the league last season with Washington and was most recently on Seattle's practice squad.
The Patriots must now cut or promote another player from the 10-man practice squad to make room for Thomas. The club has one spot available on the 53-man roster after placing RB Dion Lewis on season-ending IR earlier this week.