FOXBORO -- During the first Patriots training camp practice of the summer, Kenbrell Thompkins stood out as the team's most impressive receiver.
In seven-on-seven work he made two diving grabs -- one from Tom Brady and one from rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo -- that got loud ovations from the crowd surrounding the Gillette Stadium practice fields. Thompkins reeled in Garoppolo's pass in the corner of the end zone and maintained possession, completing what was the top highlight reel play of the day.
"He made some great plays," Brady said after the session. "He's certainly capable of it. It's exciting for a quarterback when you see a guy make those types of efforts and lay out and catch the ball like he did. He's been doing that since he got here. He's another guy that's put a lot of work in and fought really hard. It's fun to be out there with him. I have a lot of confidence in him. A lot of trust."
Earning that trust is no small feat. In his career Brady has bristled at new receivers in the past, young and old, and his ire was directed at Thompkins on occasion during the receiver's rookie season when he made 32 catches on 70 targets for 466 yards and four scores.
But some time in the last year -- perhaps in a Week 6 win over the Saints when Thompkins caught the game-winning touchdown pass with five seconds left -- Brady began to put his faith in Thompkins. At no point was that trust more evident than when the quarterback gathered a select group of receivers to work with him on goal-line pass patterns. Three of the team's top passing options -- Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola -- were in the group, and Thompkins joined them.
Brady essentially ran the session, directing his teammates how to run fades to the corner, and explaining how he'd like them to run routes across the goal line. Sprinkled in between "attaboys" for Gronkowski, Edelman and Amendola were words of encouragement for Thompkins.
The scene painted a clear picture: This second-year undrafted receiver has worked his way into Brady's inner circle of trusted on-the-field options, and he could very well be in consideration for first-team reps.
In a receiving corps that is relatively crowded -- Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Matthew Slater all could be worthy of spots on the 53-man roster -- Thompkins could have easily been an afterthought. Of those players, he costs the team the least.
But now it looks like that given his work in OTAs and minicamp, the readiness Thompkins has built off his experience last season is helping him secure his place on the team.
The fact that he's hung around for a year despite being an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, is certainly something that his quarterback -- a former sixth-round pick -- can appreciate.
"He works his tail off so I think that's one of his best attributes," Brady said. "There's nothing that's been given to him. It's great to see a competitor like that. And when guys make plays like [Thompkins made Thursday] it just elevates the rest of the team. Not every play you're going to be open by 10 yards. Sometimes you'll have to lay out and make the play. That's how you get to be a great offense. Plays that are maybe a bit unexpected, if you make those it just elevates your whole team."
Upon training camp's opening day, Thompkins showed the ability to make eye-popping plays and elevate the Patriots -- even if that was maybe a bit unexpected.