FOXBORO -- Kenbrell Thompkins was the center of attention on Wednesday for something other than the diving catches he's made with regularity throughout this year's training camp.
In a one-on-one drill with Brandon Browner, he and the 6-foot-4 corner got tied up and Thompkins shoved Browner to the ground. On their next rep they were pitted against one another again, and Browner shoved Thompkins to the ground mid-route.
Both players were miffed, and Browner's emotion boiled over into a heated exchange with receivers coach Chad O'Shea later in the practice. Browner explained that Thompkins' skill at the line contributed to his frustration level.
"[Thompkins] has got routes at the line of scrimmage that are unmatchable," Browner said. "Some guys aren't as quick as that dude so it's been competitive going against that guy. But it's only going to make me better."
That a veteran corner -- a former Pro Bowler at that -- thinks that highly of Thompkins speaks to the leaps and bounds the second-year receiver has made in 12 months.
In that time he's made New England's 53-man roster, gained Tom Brady's trust, earned a starting spot, seemingly lost Brady's trust with his up-and-down performance last season, then regained it again during this 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," Patriots coach Bill 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. He’s having another good camp this year. 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."
With Aaron Dobson still rehabbing from offseason foot surgery, Thompkins has claimed the receiver spot on the outside when Brady and his top options are on the field. The 6-foot, 200-pound wideout has made flashy plays all over the Gillette Stadium practice turf (he did drop one easy catch on Wednesday), but he still carries with him the mentality of an undrafted player.
"Coming out here, just trying to do my job," Thompkins said. "Work hard and make sure I'm on top of the things I need to be on top of. Just try to be accountable, try to be dependable. Not just doing it one day, but coming out here and making sure I'm practicing hard and working hard everyday."