FOXBOROUGH — Chris Hogan’s been that guy, battling every day of training camp to make a roster. He’s been that guy, the new guy, trying to pick up an offense after being bounced from one team to yet another.
But he’s not that guy anymore.
“I think I know what it takes to try to make it in this league and I try to just be a leader in that [receivers] room that we have,” Hogan said. “We’ve got a great group of guys and I try to be someone that those guys feel comfortable coming to to ask questions.”
Hogan’s name has been rolling off the tongues of several position mates this training camp as they list their influences and older players who have acted as mentors. Phillip Dorsett brought Hogan up last week, and Riley McCarron cited him a few days ago. On Saturday, Hogan assisted Eric Decker through his first Patriots practice.
“When you’re out there on the field on a day like today when we’re kind of working situationally on routes and stuff on the side, I think you can tell maybe if he’s not going to ask a question and if he’s a little unsure of how to do things,” Hogan said. “So, I try to be that guy in that room who’s going to say, ‘This is how Tommy [Brady] wants it done,’ or ‘This is how we’ve been doing it in the past,’ because for someone who’s been with a couple different teams, they do it differently in different places.”
Hogan, 29, fits that mold of a journeyman, too, having spent time on the Dolphins’ practice squad before the four-year stint in Buffalo that predated his Patriots tenure, which is entering its third year.
He’s made his biggest impact in New England, with a career year in 2016 and another that might have been had he not been injured for a good portion of 2017. This season, Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension effectively makes Hogan the Patriots’ No. 1 wide receiver for the first month of the regular season.
Hogan has had a good, steady training camp as one of Brady’s most-targeted receivers in practice. Most notably, he’s always among the group of receivers working to the side with the quarterbacks. Sometimes it’s just Hogan, Brady, and Edelman working with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
“Those sessions are great,” Hogan said. “When we get a chance to work one on one really or with that group of guys with Tom and Josh and Chad, you really get to kind of work on stuff that maybe you’re not going to get in practice.
“So, you’re not going to get to rep that in the team or the live drills. You really try to take advantage of those couple minutes, 5-10 minutes, whatever it is, to work on stuff that you can build on leading up to the season.”
Those sessions also signal to the rest of the team who has Brady’s trust. Watching Hogan work with that group likely tells younger receivers that he’s someone they can go to. Hogan said he saw that in running back Fred Jackson when he was in Buffalo and receiver Brian Hartline when he was in Miami.
“He’s definitely been helpful,” Dorsett said. “He was helpful last year for me. We had the same receivers coach [Sanjay Lal] in the past so when I got traded here, my receivers coach already told me that he was going to help me a lot. And then when I got traded here he was real helpful when it came to just the playbook. I was thrust into the role and he helped me a lot.”
Hogan said he tells any player, like Dorsett last year after he was traded to the Patriots at the end of camp or Decker now, to try to break the playbook into segments and to allow themselves to learn at their own speed in the ways they learn best.
It was clear in Hogan’s first year in New England that he learned quickly, that Brady liked him, and that his competitive nature fit right in.
As a player, Hogan doesn’t have the physical traits to get separation whenever he wants, but he’s a smart route runner and doesn’t make boneheaded mistakes.
He’s a solid candidate for a big year if he stays healthy, given that he’s now so comfortable in the offense and that there will be extra opportunity because of Edelman absence and other losses at the position. Hogan, who is scheduled to be a free agent after this season, may be helping others step up and fill those voids, too.