FOXBOROUGH — There was no mistaking the air of confidence. In his second year with the Patriots, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins came to training camp with a certain swagger, borne not from false bravado but from an offseason spent working on his body and his craft in an attempt to solidify his roster spot.
A year ago, Thompkins was among many new faces trying to acclimate himself with the Patriot Way, a complex offensive scheme, and the fiery, competitive nature of quarterback Tom Brady.
A rookie free agent out of Cincinnati, the 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pound Thompkins impressed nearly everyone in camp. He seemed to surprise one and all with his physical tools, his ability to get open, and his playmaking skills.
“Well, in camp right now, he’s not surprising anyone, anymore,” said safety Devin McCourty. “We know KT’s a good player and I think it’s good to see his work ethic. He’s still making plays, he’s still going out there and doing things, and that just shows the work he’s put in, it wasn’t just a one-year thing last year.
“He’s working to be one of our most consistent players on offense.’’
But Thompkins didn’t want his confidence to be misconstrued as complacency.
“We all have work to do,’’ said Thompkins, who made 32 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games, including eight starts last season. “Last year, I was unfamiliar with the things that were going on. This year, I actually know a lot more and I’m familiar with a lot of the things that are going on.
“But at the end of the day, it’s still about making plays and coming out here and executing.’’
That dedicated approach helped Thompkins make an impression with Patriots coach Bill Belichick in last year’s camp.
“Kenbrell is a lot better football player than he was a year ago and he came in and he had a real good camp last year,’’ Belichick said. “He impressed us, even starting back in the spring. He earned that starting position with his good play and his consistency. But this year, he’s way past that.
“Experience has a lot to do with it. His offseason work also has a lot to do with it. He knows what to expect. He has a much better understanding so he can play with more confidence, more aggressiveness, just generally play faster because of the knowledge of our offense and the expectations and the experience that he’s gained.’’
That much was evident in the way Thompkins did not back down from Brandon Browner, a 6-4, 221-pound veteran corner. The two combatants — Thompkins in the white corner, wearing No. 85; Browner in the blue corner, wearing No. 39 — have engaged in a fierce competition that seemed to reach a boiling point Wednesday.
Browner and Thompkins pushed and shoved each other, at one point pushing each other to the ground in the end zone during a corner fade-route drill. After each engaged in fierce hand fighting at the line of scrimmage, Browner’s temper flared when receivers coach Chad O’Shea barked at the corner to quit holding his receivers.
Thompkins, though, insisted there was no bad blood between the players. It was all in the name of giving a teammate a hard, competitive look in the practice.
“KT has [moves] at the line of scrimmage that are unmatchable,’’ Browner lauded.
Said Thompkins: “We’ve still got a lot of practices left against each other. We’re just competitors. He’s competing and I’m competing at the wide receiver position, so those things happen. At the end of the day, we all go into the locker room and we often see each other because we have another six hours together [in team meetings after practice], so hopefully we can crack a couple of jokes later.’’
Asked if he intended to hug it out with Browner, Thompson quickly replied, “We’ll talk it out.’’
Thompkins exuded a certain air of confidence in his remark.
“He’s having another good camp this year,’’ Belichick said. “He’s off to a good start, but way considerably ahead of last year, as he should be, as all second-year players should be.’’
Said Thompkins, “I’m just trying to take it day by day, coming out here trying to compete, trying to make sure that I’m working hard and doing the things that I need to do and letting everything else fall into place.’’