FOXBORO, Mass. — Brandon LaFell appeared hesitant Thursday on the Gillette Stadium practice field in his second week of organized team activities. It was unclear whether the newly signed New England Patriots wide receiver was going through his routes deliberately because of injury, or because he still was picking up the offense. LaFell answered that question after practice.
“I’m used to running a number system, and now I’m back to code words, so it’s a lot,” LaFell said Thursday at Gillette Stadium after OTAs. “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.”
LaFell isn’t the first wide receiver — nor will he be the last — to have trouble immediately picking up the Patriots’ offense. It was a difficult offense to learn when Charlie Weis was offensive coordinator from 2000 to 2004 that has become increasingly more troublesome as Josh McDaniels has added to it.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch-22 in the Patriots’ offense: While it’s difficult for receivers to learn, quarterback Tom Brady’s greatness derives from that complex system. The suggestion to simplify the offense has been raised, but the cost might be too high.
LaFell has time to learn the offense — three months to be exact — and he’s getting help from more experienced Patriots receivers, including Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins.
“He kind of helped me remember some of the codewords putting this route, that route together to make this code work,” LaFell said about Edelman. “The way he ran a route against a certain defense and stuff like that. He’s been helping me out a lot too. Him and Danny.”
Adding a wide receiver who comes from a numbers-based system might send Patriots fans into a Chad Johnson-fueled tailspin, but LaFell seems to know what it takes to succeed with the Patriots.
The main thing I want to get out of (OTAs) is learn this playbook,” LaFell said. “Learn this playbook so I can play fast and build enough confidence with Brady so that he’s comfortable getting me the ball.”
Only time will tell if LaFell can buck the trend and quickly learn the Patriots’ offense. If he can, the former Carolina Panther can be the big target (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) that the Patriots need on the outside of the field.
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