Retooled Patriots receiving corps brings early excitement

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots have had more than their share of luck when it comes to getting the most out of their receivers during the Bill Belichick era.

Last season that guy was Chris Hogan, a modestly used player during his first four NFL seasons in Buffalo. Unsure of their long-term plan for him, he went into free agency last offseason in search of a new home.

He found it in New England, where his work ethic and big play ability were rewarded with 14 starts, a career-high 680 receiving yards and the first two playoff touchdowns of his career.

This season, the Patriots are hoping Brandin Cooks can have similar success as he joins a loaded receiving corps that includes Hogan, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and second-year wideout Malcolm Mitchell.

''There's competition everywhere,'' Edelman said. ''Competition makes the best out of players. We've got a room with a lot of guys that can do a lot of things, so it's going to make us better.''

The addition of 23-year-old Cooks not only brings in a player that is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard receiving seasons, but injects more youth to a unit that was beginning to trend older.

Edelman and Amendola have been two of quarterback Tom Brady's favorite and most dependable targets in recent years, but both entered training camp at 31 years old. Hogan is 28 and Mitchell just turned 24.

While both Amendola and Edelman are expected to continue to play big roles in the offense, having a deep ball threat like Hogan and elusive players in the open field like Cooks and Mitchell give the offense more dimension.

Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said Cooks' quickness has been a marvel even in the short time he's been able to work with him.

''He's probably one of the fastest people I've ever seen in person,'' Garoppolo said. ''That's nice having at your leisure as a quarterback. That type of speed, it's rare. He uses it to his advantage to create space and it makes our job a lot easier.''

The Patriots have their first full pads practice Saturday. Cooks has already drawn the appreciation of fans with several athletic plays during New England's first two public workouts. In one instance he was able to score untouched on an end-around handoff. On another occasion he got behind the secondary and haul in a long score.

Cooks says he's not trying to do too much at this point, even if it's tempting sometimes as the new guy.

''I feel like that's what I'm supposed to do,'' Cooks said. ''I've always been taught `act like you've been there.'''

Health should also aid this group's development during camp. Both Edelman and Amendola began camp last year on the physically unable to perform list following offseason surgeries. They were injury-free when practice began Thursday and will benefit from the additional reps.

Mitchell began camp with his left knee wrapped, but said it was precautionary and shouldn't limit him.

He also said he should benefit from an extra year of familiarity with the playbook.

Cooks said he remains ''ecstatic'' about his new team and can't wait to see what happens with this unit as the preseason progresses.

''I knew a lot about the guys before I got here,'' Cooks said. ''I respect each of their games. They're all different and bring something spectacular to the table - each and every one of them. That's exciting joining a group like that.''

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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