Training camp is one of the most exciting times of the year, as a new season typically brings a level of optimism and intrigue.
However, as training camp rolls into preseason games, the downside is when one of those intriguing newcomers suffers an injury that will hold them out of regular season games.
Falling into that category for the Patriots is talented second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, who reportedly suffered a shoulder injury that will hold him out for a significant amount of time. The injury isn't considered season-ending for Thornton, but he will miss multiple weeks and is a candidate for injured reserve after New England trims its roster down to 53 players.
By placing the speedy wide receiver on injured reserve following roster cutdowns, Thornton is eligible to return after sitting out at least four regular season games.
Although an injury is never a positive development, Thornton's status is opening the door for more opportunities on the practice field for one of this summer's breakout camp stars.
After posting 11 catches for 133 yards, a touchdown, and a spectacular play in punt coverage in two preseason games, wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey moved up the depth chart during a Patriots-only practice session on Monday in Las Vegas.
It's important to consider who a player is playing with and against in preseason games and camp practices. Someone like Humphrey pops on tape, but it wasn't until Monday's practice that he was surrounded by other starters, taking the majority of his reps with second and third-stringers.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones targeted Humphrey for the first time in Training Camp in a practice at Raiders Headquarters on Monday.
"I'm on my way. I'm not there yet," Humphrey said of his progress after Monday's practice. "I still have a lot of work to do. I feel like I've made the best of my opportunities that I've got, and I need to be more consistent with that and continue to grow."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seems intrigued by Humphrey's skill set, referring to the nearly 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver as a "big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy" last week.
Humphrey works mainly in the slot or from tighter splits that put him closer to the inside of the formation. During the two preseason games, 96.6 percent of his routes came in the slot, while most of his catches were on either seems or dig routes.
Humphrey has shown solid awareness and route-running ability working over the middle of the field, finding space to operate on in-breaking patterns, and running past defenders up the seams.
"I'm kind of a big body. I know nobody is going to lay the wood on me too hard. It's just comfortable," Humphrey told Patriots.com about his ability to run routes between the numbers. "Being in the league a couple of years, I've learned from a couple of guys how to read coverage, read safeties, read linebackers, and it helps a lot, especially because I'm not the fastest."
Humphrey has also gotten some work during Training Camp as a de facto tight end, and his ability to block on the perimeter is another positive to his game.
Between contributing on special teams, run blocking, and a knack for finding openings in the middle of the field coverage, Humphrey is doing everything he can to make the Patriots initial roster. His versatile skill set to play a wide receiver/tight end hybrid role is also intriguing.
If he gets more opportunities with other starting-caliber players in joint practices with the Raiders this week, it signals that the big-bodied receiver is starting to catch the coaches' eyes as well.
But despite Humphrey's standout preseason performances, finding a roster spot for him is easier said than done. Although Thornton is injured, he'll still count towards the initial 53-man roster, so it's not necessarily creating an open roster spot for anyone.
Plus, the Patriots top-four wide receivers have been locked in all summer long; Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne have dominated those reps, and a trade seems even more unlikely now with Thornton's injury.
After he wasn't available for last Friday night's preseason game against the Panthers, Bourne returned to practice on Monday and was right back in the mix. There weren't any lingering effects from a shaky week against Carolina, where he was sent to the locker room early for fighting in last Tuesday's joint practice session with the Panthers and didn't dress for the game.
Every summer, there are a few players who were long-shots that end up with a strong case to make the 53-man roster, and Humphrey is the latest this Training Camp.
The third-year pro is in a position to earn a roster spot, but the final step is for Humphrey to make the most of his opportunities this week in Las Vegas.