FOXBORO, Mass. — JuJu Smith-Schuster is having flashbacks to his USC days as he prepares for his first season with the New England Patriots.
Signed in mid-March after spending the 2022 campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs, the veteran wide receiver spent the last month-plus learning the intricacies of Bill O’Brien’s new Patriots offense.
That process involved putting in long days and relying on a stack of trusty flashcards.
“I definitely am studying more,” Smith-Schuster said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium, speaking with New England reporters for the first time since his arrival. “I’m getting the offense down, and the terminology is different than what I’ve learned in the past. But these coaches are really, really smart when it comes to football and just knowing the game and just defense and terminology to the extent where every day, I’m growing here.
“And that’s what I love about being here. Every day is a new day, and I keep growing. I feel like I’m back in college and school again. After this, I’m going to go home, put a couple hours in, study, put on some ‘Call of Duty,’ get back into studying, go do my flashcards. I’m making flashcards! I’ve got a lot of flashcards. But it’s awesome, just the whole experience of being here, and that’s why I love football so much, because you just keep growing.”
It’s unclear how different O’Brien’s scheme will be from the one the Patriots run under offensive co-leads Matt Patricia and Joe Judge last season, or under longtime coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2021. O’Brien coordinated New England’s offense before, but that was over a decade ago, way back in 2011. The former Houston Texans head coach spent the last two seasons in the college ranks, working as Alabama’s OC under Nick Saban.
Regardless of what the offense looks like, Smith-Schuster figures to play a key role in it. The Patriots gave him an incentive-laden three-year contract in free agency to replace former top receiver Jakobi Meyers, who subsequently signed with Las Vegas. The 26-year-old joins a receiving corps that also features DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Lynn Bowden, Tre Nixon and 2023 sixth-round draft picks Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas.
Smith-Schuster spent most of his news conference raving about all aspects of the Patriots organization, including their skill-position talent (“We definitely have enough“), quarterback Mac Jones (“Sky’s the limit“) and the offense he’s joining.
“The playbook is amazing, honestly,” Smith-Schuster said. “It’s great. Bill is great. He’s a great coach. He makes everyone feel welcomed, excited. I’m just happy to be a part of the team, but also ready to work.”
Smith-Schuster called the Patriots’ offense “very varied” and acknowledged it’s a bit more complex than the systems he played in in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
“If you saw what we study,” he said, “we should get, like, a college degree for doing that, man.”
For his part, O’Brien said he’s enjoyed working with Smith-Schuster in the early days of the Patriots’ offseason program.
“It’s early, but he’s a guy that, when you watch him play and you watch his tape from the places that he’s been, he’s a very versatile guy,” O’Brien said last week. “I think that’s what you see in that wide receiver room. There’s a lot of guys with versatility. He’s definitely a guy that has been a good addition so far, just in the meeting room with his experience and the things that he’s done, especially most recently in Kansas City. So, it’s been good to work with him.”