LONG BEACH, Calif. — After missing mandatory minicamp, new Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster says he is ready to practice during training camp.
Smith-Schuster, who signed a three-year contract this offseason, sat out most of the spring while managing a knee injury suffered while playing for the Chiefs in the AFC title game in January. He returned to play in the Super Bowl, catching a team-high seven passes en route to his first championship.
The injury sidelined Smith-Schuster for all practices open to the media this spring, but he told the Globe on Saturday that he plans to be on the field when training camp opens on July 26. Smith-Schuster headed to Massachusetts on Monday, with veterans reporting to camp on July 25.
Coach Bill Belichick said during minicamp Smith-Schuster was “day to day.”
If Smith-Schuster is healthy, he has an opportunity to play an integral role in New England’s revamped offense under Bill O’Brien. Now that DeAndre Hopkins has signed with the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots are moving forward with their veteran receiving corps of Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Tyquan Thornton.
Rookies Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte, and Ed Lee, along with 2021 seventh-round pick Tre Nixon, will be fighting for reps, too.
Last season, Smith-Schuster caught 78 passes on 101 targets for 933 yards, his highest total since 2018.
Smith-Schuster sounded optimistic about the Patriots’ passing attack, citing the unit’s “intensity” and “level of change.”
“You can just feel the atmosphere of the energy getting better,” he said. “I thought at first it was a little bit slow, but now it’s a lot faster. It’s more uptempo, more pace, and it’s really, really nice.”
Even though Smith-Schuster hasn’t been on the field much, quarterback Mac Jones praised him for his work ethic and presence in the locker room.
“JuJu’s done a great job, also from a leadership standpoint,” Jones said in June. “That’s someone who adds veteran leadership from different places. He just came off of a Super Bowl team, so what a great value to our offense. Obviously, when he gets on the field, that’s going to be great because he has the experience and he loves talking about football.
“He’s just a football nerd, kind of like me. We kind of hit it off in that regard. He’s an awesome guy, and I’m looking forward to working with all those guys in that room. I think there’s a lot of potential there.”
O’Brien, too, expressed excitement about working with Smith-Schuster.
“He’s a guy that, when you watch him play and you watch his tape from the places that he’s been, he’s a very versatile guy,” O’Brien said in May. “He’s definitely a guy that has been a good addition so far, just in the meeting room with his experience and the things that he’s done, especially most recently in Kansas City. It’s been good to work with him.”
In addition to Smith-Schuster, the Patriots will be monitoring the health of Thornton, who also missed minicamp, and right guard Mike Onwenu, who underwent offseason ankle surgery.
Tackle Trent Brown is another player worth watching, as his participation during minicamp remained minimal.