By: Steve Balestrieri
Brandon Lafell has struggled to pick up the Patriots system and will be an intriguing player to watch going forward. (USA TODAY Images)
It was a bit of news Patriots fans didn’t want to hear, although it has been a familiar refrain in New England the past dozen or so years. Newly signed wide receiver Brandon Lafell has had difficulty picking up the Patriots system.
However it is still only June as the team enters the fourth week of OTAs, with mini-camp scheduled for next week and training camp still over a month and a half away. So Lafell still has time to work his way into a comfort level with the offense and more importantly with quarterback Tom Brady.
LaFell, 27, caught a career-high 49 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers last year, and signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Patriots this spring. The big, 6’2, 210 wide receiver can play outside or inside in the slot.
But LaFell said that his transition to the Patriots offense is going slowly.”It’s been a grind so far, man, trying to learn this new playbook, my new teammates,” Lafell told media members last week.
“I’m used to running a number system, and now I’m back to code words, so it’s a lot,” LaFell said. “The quicker I can learn this offense the quicker I can go out there and be reliable, to play fast and know what I’m doing — instead of now, I’m kind of playing at half-speed because I’m thinking so much.”
With Lafell going from a numbers-based system to code word system, the learning curve is tough and not every wide receiver that has come here has been able to master it. Many established veterans have struggled here among them Joey Galloway, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Chad Ocho Cinco.
Nothing gets a receiver frozen out of the Patriots system quicker than losing the confidence of Brady. And running the wrong route and being in the wrong location will do that quickly. So Lafell has his work cut out for him.
But having the size to be a bigger target especially in the red-zone is working for him. Plus he’s already drawing some praise from his fellow wide receivers thus far in OTAs with both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola lauding his work on the field.
Lafell, has been putting in the hard work and last week said, “The way we work, the way we practice, is all new to me. It’s not like we didn’t work hard in Carolina, but we work a little harder here.”
So, being the new weapon in the Pats offense Lafell was already one of the players to watch during this year’s training camp. Now with his own admission that it’s been a struggle for him, he becomes an even more compelling player to watch once the team hits the field in July. Then the work level will really amp up.
With all the wide receivers fighting for roster spots and playing time it will be a fun group to watch, especially once the team goes to 11-on-11 against the defense. Lafell will be looking to join a much smaller list of wide receivers who came to New England and thrived under the Patriots system.
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