FOXBORO, Mass. — Eric Decker’s New England Patriots tenure is off to an inauspicious start.
Decker, who signed with the Patriots earlier this month, has endured a rocky transition to New England as he attempts to learn the offense and build chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady on the fly.
The frequency with which the 31-year-old wide receiver has dropped passes has been particularly alarming. Decker has registered a team-high six drops over the team’s last three practices, including three Monday.
“I mean, there’s no excuses for it,” Decker said after Monday’s session. “It’s something I’ve obviously got to address, and that’s something you work through. In my mind, that’s why God created practice. It’s just to be able to get better and try to flush that out. But my job is to catch the football, so I’ve got to do better in that field.”
Several of Decker’s drops have come in unopposed side sessions with Brady, suggesting the wideout might be overthinking. He mentioned multiple times after practice the steep learning curve for offensive players in New England and said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — his head coach in Denver in 2010 — has changed his playbook more drastically than Decker had anticipated.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Decker, who walked out to practice with Brady on Monday. “I feel more comfortable with the playbook. Things are slowing down mentally. That’s one thing. I’ve just got to be able to get on the field and execute and just be able to kind of not think about things and just react. I’m getting there.”
Rust also could be a factor. It took him more than four months to land with the Patriots after hitting free agency in March, meaning he was unemployed during organized team activities and minicamp.
“I hadn’t been anywhere all offseason,” Decker said. “I got work training, but it’s not the same as simulating live against a defensive back, getting in the huddle, getting out of the huddle, running against a defense and executing. This is a process, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”
Decker, who is coming off an underwhelming season with the Tennessee Titans, did respond well over the second half of Monday’s session. He caught four passes in 11-on-11 drills, including a nice grab against cornerback Jonathan Jones, who had him tightly covered. He also wasn’t the only one who struggled with drops, as his teammates combined for seven more during the damp, dreary practice.
After playing just six offensive snaps against the Washington Redskins last Thursday in his Patriots preseason debut, Decker will have an opportunity for more game reps Thursday when the Philadelphia Eagles visit Gillette Stadium.
In the meantime, he’s focused on learning from his mistakes.
“It’s part of the game,” Decker said. “We’re all human. We’re going to make mistakes. But don’t let it become a habit. Don’t let it happen over and over again. And this game is about mental toughness, so you’ve got to understand that you’ve got to bounce back, and they’re going to be asking you to respond. It’s not really what you do in that moment. It’s how you react to it.
“I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve had a few drops in my days and many catches, as well. So I know how to bounce back and get to it.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images