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Unfiltered Notebook 9/27: Dorsett ready for expanded role

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The Patriots wrapped up preparations for the Bills on Friday, with a Bill Belichick press conference, a practice in shells under clear blue skies and an open locker room period. All week the team acknowledged their excitement to play in Buffalo and that continued as they packed their bags for their second road trip of the season.

“There’s obviously a lot to expect anytime you go on the road,” said rookie linebacker Chase Winovich. “Buffalo’s definitely no exception, it’s going to be a rowdy game and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

Bill Belichick echoed those sentiments in his final press conference of the week.

“This will be a great environment, a hostile environment, great atmosphere. Buffalo's got great fans,” Belichick said, before adding with a wry grin, “They always give us a warm reception. I'm sure we'll get another one this week.”

One of the biggest questions facing the team will be the status of Julian Edelman, who was present all week at practice but did not speak with the media on Friday as has usually been the case this season. He was listed on Friday's injury report as questionable. There’s an easy argument to be made for sitting Edelman out this early in the season. His importance to the offense can’t be understated and no one wants to exacerbate an injury and put his long-term status in question.

If Edelman can’t go it will put an even bigger focus on Phillip Dorsett, a reliable receiver who has chipped in with some key catches in his first two-plus seasons with the Pats. After catching 32 balls for 290 yards and three touchdowns in the 2018 regular season, he had five catches and two touchdowns in helping the team get to Super Bowl 53.

Dorsett would likely move inside to more of a slot receiver role without Edelman, something he did against the Jets after Edelman went down, playing the second-highest snap total of his career. The former Miami Hurricane takes pride in with his ability to play multiple spots.

“It’s something that I’ve always been pretty versatile when it comes to playing different positions,” Dorsett said on Friday. “I never really try to learn just one thing, I try to be available inside and outside.”

A speed receiver when he was selected by the Colts in the first round of the 2015 draft, the quick cuts and multiple array of routes required to play inside are things Dorsett has worked on.

“It’s something that as a receiver you want to perfect your craft,” Dorsett continued. “You don’t want to be put in a box, labelled a guy who just plays here or runs these routes, you want to be able to run the full route tree inside and out.”

With 13 catches on 14 targets, 187 yards and three touchdowns, Dorsett is easily on track to set career highs in all categories. But being thrust inside full-time and taking over Edelman's vital role means Dorsett will now be someone the team needs to rely on to keep the offense on schedule, not just a complimentary piece who gets little attention from the defense and can get by with just a few catches per game.

“He’s one of the guys that’s now become one of the people on the team that you just have to count on week-to-week and you have to know exactly what you’re going to get,” Tom Brady said this week about Dorsett. “He was one of those guys before that was like, ‘Man, we don’t know.’ He was new here. There were other guys that carried a burden. And I think the veteran players who have been around, been in the tough games, know how to do it, you’ve got to carry the burden while the other guys can get up to speed and learn.”

Is Dorsett ready to carry that burden? The opportunity will be there for him this weekend, even if Edelman does play, and everyone is rooting for him, especially Brady.

“He’s done a great job for us and he’s making a lot of plays for us, we put him all over the field, and [he] just continues to improve,” said Brady. “I think this has been a big year for Phil. He’s worked really hard, put himself in a great position to take advantage of his opportunities, and he’s certainly done it. So, everyone’s happy for Phil. Nobody deserves it more than him, and he’s going to need to keep doing it.

Practice and Injury Report

Left tackle Marshall Newhouse returned to practice after missing Thursday’s session. He’s been on the injury report all week with an illness, so this is a good sign he could be ready to go by Sunday.

The injury report ruled no one out yet, but featured seven players who are questionable. Some significant names are included and will be worth monitoring over the weekend as inactives roll in.

QUESTIONABLE
DE Michael Bennett, Shoulder
RB Rex Burkhead, Foot
S Nate Ebner, Groin
WR Julian Edelman, Chest
T Marshall Newhouse, Illness
LB Dont'a Hightower, Shoulder
TE Matt LaCosse, Ankle

Locker Room Sound Bites

Brandon Bolden on Bills running back Frank Gore:

“I actually got the pleasure of spending last year with Frank so I got to pick his brain a little bit. Frank’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal man, and just kinda picking up on the things he’s picked up on in the past [15] years. It’s just been very remarkable, he’s been able to stay healthy. Hats off to him because he’s been doing it so long.”

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