FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots wide receiver Taylor Price has looked like a completely different player in his second training camp, and his improved performance yielded some high praise from Bill Belichick.
The head coach said Monday that Price "absolutely" looked like a new man this season. In what way?
"Everything," Belichick replied. "He knows the offense better. ? His conditioning, his experience in the system last year. Of course, the offense that we run is quite a bit different than what he ran in college, so there's a lot of learning and technique work there. I think he's definitely way ahead of where he was last year."
Price, a third-round pick from Ohio in 2010, was at an immediate disadvantage as a rookie. The NFL doesn't allow rookies to practice with their new teams until their senior class has graduated, and because Ohio's school year has trimesters and extends into June, Price missed three weeks of offseason practices.
He had a strong start to his rookie camp, but he fell off in training camp because he admittedly had a difficult time learning the playbook. Ohio runs a very vanilla, run-heavy offense, and it was a tough adjustment to the Patriots' sophisticated scheme.
Plus, Price didn't have a lot of special teams value, so he was stuck at the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart on game days. As a result, he was a healthy scratch for the first 15 games of the regular season before catching three passes for 41 yards in the finale against the Dolphins. Price was also inactive in the playoffs against the Jets.
Since he couldn't get on the field, he said he buried himself in the playbook, and he continued that approach throughout the offseason.
"I think I've got a pretty good grasp on it," Price said. "I know what I'm doing. I've got a lot of confidence, and I know what I'm doing when I step on the field. I'm ready."
Price has been making plays on a daily basis at training camp, and he looks like the Patriots' fourth best wide receiver behind Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco. It's still too early to tell if Price will have a more active role on the field, particularly since Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman have been assets in the return game. But at the very least, Price looks like a more polished offensive weapon.
Special teams coordinator Scott O'Brien was also pleased with Price's improvements in that area. Price has filled in as a kick returner, and he has also played on one of the two kickoff coverage units. It's a clear attempt by the Patriots to get him as involved as possible.
The Patriots could go in a lot of directions with their offense because they've got so many weapons, from the wide receivers to the tight ends to the running backs. With that, players won't get on the field on merit alone, and the game plan will likely change from week to week anyway.
Price might not know how much playing time he'll get in 2011, but everyone in the organization appears to be aware of one thing: He should be a greater asset for Tom Brady this season than he was as a rookie.
"It was a little frustrating," Price said of the 2010 season, "but I tried to take all of the positives out of it that I could, get in the playbook, learn as much as I could, just come out here every day with a new mindset, a clear mindset, ready to learn, ready to compete."