Bill Belichick often says a player's biggest improvement comes in their second year. With a season of NFL football under their belts, players are often more comfortable and allow their abilities to take over. With that in mind we thought it would make sense to check in on several players entering Year 2 (and some others who have seen little playing time) to see how they're progressing in this strange offseason.
It seems like every spring there's at least one unknown player who stands out during workouts and puts himself in line to earn a roster spot. Last spring, Jakobi Meyers was one of those players.
Bill Belichick has made a habit out of finding use for undrafted rookies, and Meyers was one of two wide receivers (Gunner Olszewski) who took that path to Foxborough a year ago.
While Meyers enjoyed some success in his rookie season, catching 26 passes for 359 yards while filling a complementary role in the offense, he's looking for more in Year 2.
"Mentally, I want to be levels ahead of where I was last year," Meyers said of his goals for 2020. "Understanding not only what we're doing but also why we're doing it. Earning trust to make the right play. I want to build on last year. It was a nice stepping stone, but I want to keep building and growing."
Meyers has spent the offseason back home in Georgia, where he's benefited slightly from the state's somewhat relaxed measures in dealing the COVID-19 pandemic. He's been able to work out both on his own and with some friends, although he hasn't been able to do much with teammates beyond regular video interaction.
The former quarterback at North Carolina State hasn't been bothered by the restrictions, however.
"I don't need a football field to know what my assignment is," Meyers said, referring to the mental reps that have dominated his spring. "I feel like I will be a lot further ahead. I didn't know if I'd even make the team or what role I might have or where I'd be playing. I still have chip on my shoulder, like will I even be here? I'm staying ready for my name to be called. I need to make sure I give them a reason to keep me around."
If Meyers can get a handle on the mental side of the game it's clear he has something to offer. At 6-2, 200 pounds, he's a little bigger than the Patriots typical slot receivers through the years. But his smooth strides and noticeable strength make him a tough matchup inside, which was particularly evident last summer.
During the preseason, Meyers led New England with 20 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He often showed his toughness between the hashes, where he made catches in traffic while also breaking more than his share of tackles to pick up extra yards.
Those yards are critical in the Patriots passing attack, which often relies on the ability of the receivers to move the chains after making the catch.
Meyers believes the key for him making the jump toward consistent regular-season success will come now. As he and his teammates meet regularly for online meetings, he continues to do his best to know and understand the offense at a higher level than his rookie season.
"That's the key for me this year," he began. "I want to be the best I can mentally. The more I understand what I'm doing the better I can play, the faster I can play. People will always be able to find you if you don't know what you're doing. You will be exposed.
"Last season was a learning experience. It was a perfect chance for me to learn, and for me to figure out how I would learn from it."
The strange elements of the offseason have been tough for all of us to deal with, and that's certainly been the case for the players – especially inexperienced ones like Meyers. But rather than dwell on the negative, the second-year wideout is making the most of it and expressed some comfort in the knowledge that his team is handling things as well as could be expected.
"I try to stay in touch as much as I can with everyone," Meyers concluded. "There's going to be a time they call us back and we have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. I'm doing the right things now to make sure I'm ready. It's a tough situation for any organization to handle, but I feel like they're doing a great job with us.
"The whole process has definitely different. Last year I was in the building and my day was scheduled for me pretty much 24/7. Now I have a lot more free time than I did last year and I have to make sure I stick to my schedule."
The Patriots did not add a receiver through the draft but have signed several free agents, both rookies and veterans. Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee were the veterans added to the mix in addition to four UDFAs – Jeff Thomas, Will Hastings, Isaiah Zuber and Sean Riley.
For now, Meyers is only concerned with himself and preparing for 2020.
"My head is 100 percent we're going to have a season," he said, "and I'm ready to go."