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Josh Boyce finding his comfort level
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The Year 2 jump is referred to so often around the National Football League the term has become a cliche. It's as if fans - and media types - expect a young player to magically transform himself from a wet-behind-the-ears rookie to a dominant force simply because he has a year of NFL life under his belt.
Josh Boyce knows that such a transformation won't be possible unless the requisite hard work is done, and judging by his early performance this spring the second-year wideout has been busy.
"Hard work, it's as simple as that," Boyce said when asked what his offseason entailed. "Really not much to say other than working hard to get better. I went home for a little bit but most of my time was spent right here working to get better."
Time will tell if that work will translate into bigger and better things for Boyce, but there was a noticeable difference in his demeanor on the practice field during OTAs. His movements suggested those of a player much more sure of himself, and the boost of confidence seemed to serve him well.
"It's good. I feel a lot more comfortable," Boyce admitted. "I learned a lot last year about working harder and smarter from [Julian] Edelman and [Danny] Amendola. I feel a lot more comfortable and I'm starting to play a lot faster, and I'm not having to think as much. I'm just reacting and playing instead of thinking about my every move."
Boyce's rookie season was marred by nagging injuries. He played in just 10 games and caught nine passes for 121 yards. Seven of those receptions came in consecutive weeks in December against Cleveland (three) and at Miami (four). He caught just one pass over the first five weeks before sitting out five of the next six games. He was placed on injured reserve prior to the team's divisional round playoff win over Indianapolis with a foot injury.
But with some added bulk on his 5-11, 205-pound frame, not to mention the comfort of knowing his environment, Boyce will have a shot to earn a spot in the receiver rotation. That could be on the outside where the team lacks depth, or in the slot. He took reps in both spots during OTAs and the 2013 fourth-round pick says he doesn't have a preference.
"We just play football. We can't worry about that stuff," Boyce said. "Whatever they put me at I'm just trying to give it my all. We all work hard and push each other."
After showing improvement in the first practice open to the media, Boyce followed that up with another solid workout in the rain on Thursday. He was one of the few receivers who managed to catch the wet ball consistently, and he took several reps returning kicks as well. His speed and dynamic ability, which was on display briefly down the stretch a year ago, should serve him well in that capacity.
At this point Boyce just hopes he's in the position to push someone for playing time once the dust settles after training camp. With Edelman, Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell all likely to fall into the "roster lock" category, Boyce could be battling fellow second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins among others for as little as one remaining spot.
Judging off the early spring work, Boyce is well on his way toward proving he belongs in the mix.