FOXBORO, Mass. — When Patriots rookie wide receiver Taylor Price walked off the field after Wednesday's minicamp practice, head coach Bill Belichick caught his ear with a quick message: Just keep on learning.
Price has been victimized by a quirky NFL rule that doesn’t allow rookies to practice with their teammates until their senior class graduates, meaning Price couldn’t report to camp until this week. Because of that, he knows he's up against it to catch up to speed with the rest of his teammates, the majority of whom are on their fourth week of offseason practices.
"It's frustrating, but it is what it is," Price said of the rule. "You've got to go with it. There's nothing you can do about it but do as much as you can while you're away from the field."
A week after the April draft, Price was able to attend New England's rookie camp, so he's got something to build from. He was able to study that information and an early version of the playbook, and the coaching staff mailed him new material and spent time discussing things with him over the phone. He's not starting from square one, but there is plenty of work to be done.
"I don’t know as much as I should know yet, but I'm getting to that point," Price said. "I'm just learning gradually every day."
Price actually had a tremendous first practice, as the coaching staff gave him plenty of reps, and he had a number of opportunities to hook up with Tom Brady. Price cramped up toward the end of the session, though, a result of being out of football shape. He participated in the full session Wednesday, but his reps with the first team were scaled down a bit — either because the coaches wanted to give him a break or it was a sign that Price passed his first test with Tuesday's practice.
Price is a strong, physically imposing wide receiver with 4.3 speed and untapped potential. Ohio's offense was built around the running game, so Price didn’t get much of an opportunity to build up his stats or create a flashy highlight reel. Obviously, though, the Patriots were intrigued enough to draft him in the third round.
Now, Price has to reward them for that faith, and there is very little room for error. Price — who, leading up to the draft, said he interviewed with teams that were concerned about his late arrival due to the NFL rule — has to fight just to make the team. He is competing with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Sam Aiken, Matthew Slater, Torry Holt, David Patten and Buddy Farnham for six or seven roster spots, and that promises to be one serious grind.
Price is doing his level best to make up ground at this point. When he's on the sidelines watching other players take reps, he's spending time with Holt, Patten and other veterans, asking them questions about the intricacies of the position. Then, when the Patriots break for six weeks prior training camp, Price will stay at Gillette Stadium to train and learn as much as possible about the offensive system.
Even though the frustrating part of his rookie season has ended, the real work has merely begun.
"It just feels good to be back on the field and running around with teammates," Price said. "That feels good.
"I just know I'm going to keep my nose in that playbook, keep watching film. This is all I have, just football now, so keep learning, and try to get on the field as fast as possible and make plays."