After yesterday, this much is clear: The Patriots are in full public support of receiver Chad Ochocinco.
From Tom Brady’s comments during a radio appearance, to offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s words, to a conference call with director of player personnel Nick Caserio, all parties threw their support behind Ochocinco, despite the veteran being on the field for just seven plays in Sunday’s 20-16 win over Dallas.
Acquired from Cincinnati at the start of training camp, the high hopes many harbored for what a Brady-Ochocinco pairing might do for the Patriots offense have not been realized.
Just a few weeks after arriving, Ochocinco rated his comfort with the playbook at a 7 out of 10, and rising. In the days before his first regular-season game in a Patriots uniform, he said that when he got to 10, paired with Brady, he’d be great.
But after six games, the 33-year-old has nine catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns. Against the Cowboys, he was held without a reception for the first time since the Bengals’ regular-season finale in 2009.
On Sunday, he was targeted once, in the third quarter, and ran the wrong route; Brady’s pass fell to the Gillette Stadium turf.
O’Brien said the incomplete pass was his fault.
“We’re happy with what Chad’s done for us. He’s probably one of our best practice players.”Nick Caserio
“That was probably more me than anything, going to the well a little too often on something there,’’ O’Brien said. “We probably didn’t put him in the best position.’’
Asked if there is a chemistry issue with Brady and Ochocinco, O’Brien cited Ochocinco’s continued improvement.
“Ocho is progressing every week,’’ he said. “He’s done a really good job in practice and when he’s been in certain parts of games, he’s produced - two-minute drives at the end of halves and things. We’re happy where Ocho is with things right now.’’
Ochocinco, who has shared a friendly relationship with Bill Belichick for years, seemed like a good fit for the Patriots offense because he is known as a strong route runner, a must in this system.
Yet something isn’t clicking, though no one with the Patriots will admit it.
“Look, he’s working hard at it and we’re all working hard at it,’’ Brady said during his weekly contractually obligated appearance on WEEI yesterday morning. “I’d say there’s definitely a lot of improvement that we’ve made and we’re going to continue to make. I have a lot of trust and confidence in him; I don’t lack for that at all. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities yesterday; I think that’s the reality of that game.
“There were a lot of other guys that were in there - Aaron [Hernandez] was in there a lot, Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] was in there a lot, obviously Wes [Welker] and Deion [Branch] have been out there, so that was just primarily the way it turned out yesterday. How it turns out when we play Pittsburgh [Oct. 30], I have no idea, but it will probably be pretty different there too. Like I said, I have tons of confidence in Chad.’’
Ochocinco hasn’t said much in recent weeks.
Caserio praised Ochocinco’s on-field work leading up to games.
“We’re happy with what Chad’s done for us. He’s probably one of our best practice players. He goes out there, he works hard, practices hard, he’s out there on the field, he competes, he has made plays when he has had the opportunity,’’ Caserio said.
“We’re six games in with a long season and we’re happy that Chad’s on the team.’’
However, even Ochocinco likely would admit that New England isn’t paying him to be one of its best practice players.
“The players that are on the team, we’re happy that they’re here. Until something changes, they’ll be here and we’ll continue to work with the players as much as we can,’’ Caserio said. “And I would say that goes for every player in our program - all 61, including the eight that are on our practice squad.’’
O’Brien echoed Brady’s thoughts, saying Ochocinco’s day is likely coming.
“This is a unique place,’’ O’Brien said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that contribute and some guys in certain games are contributing more than others. At some point in time, we’re going to need everybody to contribute, so that’s kind of where it is right now. Ocho is probably in that category and working really hard to keep producing and eventually help us in different ways.’’Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.