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Struggling Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith is saying all the right things as he prepares to face his former team, the Titans

Jonnu Smith has caught just 22 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in 10 games.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

FOXBOROUGH — Tight end Jonnu Smith is saying all the right things following a slow start to his first season as a Patriot.

Yes, he’s feeling “good” and “ready” after being limited in practice the past four weeks with a banged-up shoulder. The injury sidelined Smith for the Week 10 game against Cleveland, but he returned to the field last Thursday night against Atlanta.

No, he’s not frustrated by the process of integrating himself into a new organization. No, he’s also not frustrated by his lack of production on the stat sheet. In 10 games, Smith has caught just 22 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown.


“I’m thankful I’m in the position that I am,” he said Tuesday. “Whatever it is I’m called or asked to do, that’s just always been the player I’ve been. I don’t necessarily worry about the role. I just embrace it. I’m not going to worry about the role.”

Jonnu Smith has 22 catches this season.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

When the Patriots signed Smith to a four-year, $50 million contract in March, much was made about his ability to gain yards after the catch, his quickness in the open field, his athleticism, and his presence in the red zone. But those strengths have yet to be showcased in New England.

This season, Smith has been on the field for 47.7 percent of the snaps on offense, with many recent reps coming as a run blocker. That role is valuable, but based on his skill set, Smith seems capable of contributing more offensively.

“The tight end position, obviously here and everywhere, is a unique position because you’re involved in so many different things,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. “Run blocking, pass receiving, pass protection, alerts, motion, there’s a lot of different things you have to do well. Jonnu’s tried really hard to do all the things we’ve asked him to do.”


This Sunday, Smith will be up against the Tennessee Titans — the organization where he began his NFL career and displayed many of skills that made him an enticing acquisition for the Patriots. In his final two seasons as a Titan, Smith caught all 10 of his targets in the red zone, and all 10 converted for touchdowns. He also recorded the third-fastest speed among tight ends, reaching 20.72 miles per hour as a ball carrier.

Smith’s former teammates are well aware of the threat he poses.

“Jonnu was a great player here,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said Tuesday. “He’s going to be a huge challenge for us. Any time he has the ball in his hands, he has the chance to go 80 yards.”

Jonnu Smith is in his first season with the Patriots.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

That version of Smith has yet to debut in New England, but there seems to be little, if any, concern from all involved. Both McDaniels and tight ends coach Nick Caley have applauded Smith for how he’s handled the transition and adapted each week.

“He’s always come to work with an incredible work ethic, he’s locked in, he’s unselfish,” Caley said. “His attitude has always been great since he’s been here.”

McDaniels called Smith’s first season “a foundational year,” something he also extended to New England’s other free agent signings Hunter Henry (three years, $37.5 million), Kendrick Bourne (three years, $15 million), and Nelson Agholor (two years, $22 million).

Their first season as Patriots, according to McDaniels, is an opportunity to learn and acclimate to coach Bill Belichick’s system, setting themselves up for the future.


“These guys that come in, they might have heard NFL vernacular and been around NFL football,’' McDaniels said. “But sitting in Bill’s squad meetings, listening to what we do and what we try to do on a weekly week basis, fitting in to how we change the offense from one week to the next to try to attack the defense’s weaknesses or protect our weaknesses, those changing identities within the same drive — I’m the X here and the Z there, I’m the Y here — there’s some things that we do that I don’t know how much of those things happen in other places.”

Henry has already been more involved offensively, leading the team in touchdowns (7) and red zone targets (13). Henry’s first score didn’t come until Week 4, but he’s found the end zone in six of the past eight games.

So, is it just a matter of time before Smith breaks out?

Jonnu Smith fights for first-down yardage against the Jets earlier this season.Maddie Meyer/Getty

“You get anywhere the first time in your life and it’s an adjustment,” Smith said. “It’s just about how well you adjust. Just coming in with the same mind-set every day: Put my hard hat on.”

That breakout game, though, is hardly at the top of Smith’s priorities.

“As players, we don’t sit here and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do this week,’ ” he said. “That’s the coach’s job. It’s our job to go out and execute it. That’s all I can worry about.”


Instead, Smith is focused on doing what he can to help the Patriots win and extend their season. He expressed excitement about the team’s recent success and hope that the opportunities will continue to come.

“I got no reason to put my head down,” he said. “This team is an amazing team right now. I’m thankful for the guys that care about one another in that locker room. It’s part of the reason why we’re here and have been having some success.”

Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.