FOXBORO, Mass. — Brandon LaFell is in a good place with the New England Patriots — both mentally and physically.
LaFell’s locker sits directly next to his starting quarterback, Tom Brady, and the newly signed wide receiver is feeling much more comfortable after three weeks of training camp than he did when he came to Gillette Stadium for organized team activities in May.
“From OTAs to now, if I had to put it on a scale from zero to 10, I would say like an 8 now,” LaFell said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium before practice. “OTAs I was shell-shocked, didn’t know what to expect. Everything was all new to me.
“I was in Carolina for the last four years, so I got used to that routine, got used to that playbook. Everything’s new here, and since the beginning of camp, I feel way more comfortable. Just being in the huddle with Brady, hearing him call the plays. I’m way more comfortable.”
LaFell isn’t only looking comfortable with Brady at the helm. The former Carolina Panthers wide receiver, who is getting ready to play his old team on Friday night in the Patriots’ third preseason game, hooked up with rookie signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo last Friday night for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. LaFell’s route on that play impressed Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
“He’s gotten better at the routes that we run. Kinda — the deep out route that he ran in the game was good,” Belichick said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “He created a lot of separation on that. He’s got a good skill set — little different than some of our other guys.”
LaFell saw snaps with Brady, Garoppolo and Ryan Mallett in training camp, and he’s competing with second-year pros Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson for a starting role at the “X” receiver position. Belichick said that LaFell could see a big role with the Patriots in 2014.
“He’s finding different ways to contribute, whether it’s blocking, receiving, special teams. He’s done whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it well, he’s gotten better at it,” Belichick said. “I think he’ll be able to carve out a role for himself here — might be a big one. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
LaFell has seen his chemistry improving with Brady during practice. The fifth-year pro can play all three wide receiver positions in the Patriots’ offense, so whether he grabs a starting role or not, LaFell should see a fair share of playing time in a wide receiver corps that has been bit by the injury bug in years past.
“We’ve been getting better and better each and every day, each and every week,” LaFell said. “The more and more reps I get with this guy, getting our timing better, and also he’s trying to find me more.”
LaFell still has some work to do if he wants to be a 10 out of 10 when the season starts. And if he’s able to get there, he certainly will be able to carve out a big role this season.