FOXBOROUGH — For every Wes Welker or Randy Moss — receivers who came to the Patriots from other teams and clicked with Tom Brady and the offense right away — there are just as many players like Joey Galloway or Chad Ochocinco, who had success elsewhere but could not do enough to stay on the field with New England.
It is too early to know which side of that spectrum Brandon LaFell will fall on, but lately the Houston native is trending more toward the Moss/Welker end than the Galloway/Ochocinco end — which is off the deep end.
On Wednesday, despite rain that made for a sloppy passing game at times, LaFell consistently caught balls thrown in his direction from both Brady and Ryan Mallett. At one point, he earned a loud, “Yeah, 1-9!” from Brady after making a nice sideline grab against the Eagles.
The catch alone wasn’t what made Brady happy. LaFell said earlier in training camp they ran the same play against their own defense and he fell at the top end of the route. Brady told him to keep his feet underneath him and make a play, which is what he did Wednesday.
“It’s been getting better day by day,” LaFell said of his relationship with Brady. “It was rocky this offseason because I was the new guy here, I didn’t know too much, and I didn’t know where he wanted me to be, but the more reps I get with him and the more times he throws me the ball, and day by day we just continue to get better and I think we’re on a good path right now.”
The free agent failures are mentioned, and LaFell, who signed a three-year, $9 million contract, is asked if he feels pressure to not become one of those guys.
“I think it’s pressure on everybody, on all 11 guys to get your job right, because there’s guys right behind you that are just as hungry as you,” he said. “You don’t want to be the guy out there making mistakes on this play and that play and end up getting subbed out.”
A third-round pick of the Panthers in 2010, LaFell was an All-SEC performer at Louisiana State before joining Carolina. The 6-foot-2-inch, 210-pounder is coming off a season in which he recorded career bests for receptions (49) and touchdowns (5) and he averaged 12.8 yards per catch.
LaFell is among the tallest receivers the Patriots have, something Brady has certainly taken notice of; last week, he joked that it’s nice to have a bigger guy in addition to “pygmies” Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
“I’ve really enjoyed being with him,” said Brady. “He’s added a lot. He’s got a real love for the game, and he does a great job out there getting open. He just keeps making more plays.
“It’s really fun for a quarterback to see guys out there really working hard to make the improvements and then really do it, and hopefully it continues to carry over.
“And Julian and Danny, same thing. KT [Kenbrell Thompkins] has been making a bunch of plays. All those guys who have been out there are great.”
LaFell has been moved around the field, and is understanding more and more of the playbook, both of which are contributing to his growing comfort in the offense. He mentioned that he’s starting to just play and not having to think as much, which is always a positive for players.
There are still some times, however, when he has to correct himself; for instance, there is a formation the Patriots have that has the same name as a play call the Panthers have.
“I come out the huddle and I’m like, ‘Aw, hell, that’s not the play, that’s the formation,’ ” LaFell said, chuckling. “But I’m getting used to it now.”
Getting more and more reps is helping as well, as he hopes to smooth things out as much as possible before the season begins.
“I’m enjoying all these reps I’m getting,” said LaFell. “You can’t get mad when you’re out there and you’re getting reps and you’re getting the ball thrown your way, so I’m enjoying it.
“I need it right now because I’m new to this offense. I need to get as much time with Tom as I can. Preseason, that’s what you need to get your timing so when it comes to the season there won’t be any setbacks.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, LaFell was incorrectly described as the tallest Patriots receiver in a previous version.