FOXBORO — As Mike Gesicki prepares to face his former team for the first time, there’s little question the tight end must be enjoying the fit with his new one.
Gesicki was drafted by the Dolphins in 2018 and spent the first five seasons of his career in Miami before signing with the Patriots prior to this season. And it’s clear that New England is interested in utilizing the tight end’s strengths, that of an athletic weapon in the passing game.
“He’s a three-level route runner. I mean, he can go over the top,” Patriots safety Adrian Phillips said. “He’s wiggly, like when he runs his route, it’s kind of hard to figure out what he’s running because he kind of has this like unorthodox run. He’s able to break off at like any stride, so that makes it tough, and I would just say his catch radius is what makes it so tough to guard him because even if you have good coverage, he has long arms, he can jump. He can just go pluck the ball.”
Those talents were on display during a career season for Gesicki in 2021, when he set career highs in receptions (73), targets (112) and receiving yards (780). But that was head coach Brian Flores’ final season before the Dolphins brought in Mike McDaniel last season. Under the new coaching regime, Gesicki’s role in Miami’s passing game dipped. He was used more in-line and pass blocked more than twice as much under McDaniel. His numbers reflected that, as he finished the season with just 32 catches on 52 targets for 362 yards.
Put simply, McDaniels’ system fit wasn’t ideal for a player of Gesicki’s talent and skill set, which Phillips found difficult to compare to other tight ends he’s defended throughout his career.
“I think it’s tough to compare him to anybody, just because the way that he runs and the way that he’s able to go up and attack the ball, it just makes it a lot different,” Phillips said. “Most of your tight ends, you’re either going to have a guy that’s good at getting open or he’s good at making contested catches, and he’s like one of the few that are able to do both.”
Those ball skills were on display this summer, when he made one of the best plays of training camp when he hauled in a one-handed reception in the corner of the end zone. Gesicki produced just three catches for 36 yards in his Patriots debut last Sunday, but he was heavily utilized during passing situations including the final drive, when Mac Jones found him for a 17-yard catch-and-run that put New England in position to pull off an upset victory that fell just short.
Gesicki played 28 snaps in the slot, four outside and one in-line on Sunday, and was featured in three-receiver sets during passing situations. He rotated with Hunter Henry and the two even shared the field together on some plays.
Gesicki has certainly been a welcome addition to the tight end room.
“Mike brings a lot of energy,” Henry said. “He’s fun to be around, he competes, he sees things in a good way and a guy that’s played a lot of football as well, so it was fun to get out there and I’m excited (to continue).”
And not just on the offensive side, he’s made the Patriots defense better by giving them fits in practice.
“Playing against Mike has definitely been a task for us,” Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley said. “For one, definitely a new face and new body type that we kind of have to account for when it comes to going against our offense and things like that, as well as what he brings athletically as far as stretching the field and him being almost 6-6, so that gives you a step, too. But he’s definitely been a huge asset for us. He’s doing nothing but getting better each and every week, so I’m sure we’ll have something for him on offense.”
Gesicki will receive some of the spotlight on Sunday night, as the Patriots welcome the Dolphins to Foxboro in a national primetime matchup. It’s unclear how much of an advantage the tight end’s familiarity with the opponent will help the Patriots – the Dolphins certainly know him well, too – but it won’t hurt, either.
“He’s gone against a lot of the personnel for a long time, obviously it’s a different defense in a lot of ways,” Henry said. “But at least personnel-wise, he’s had a lot more reps than we have over the years, especially in practice. So, we’ll bounce some things off him.”