It's an enviable position that Taylor Price finds himself in these days. Just a few lockers down from quarterback Tom Brady and right next door to fellow receiver Chad Ochocinco, the second-year Patriot is close to some of the NFL's all-time greats.
On the field, too, he is being given a valuable opportunity – a do-over, if you will – to be an important component of New England's offense.
His rookie year was almost an afterthought. Drafted in the third round, Taylor Price only saw action in one game, the regular season finale against Miami, and caught just three passes.
Now in his second year, the wide receiver has already surpassed his 2010 production in one preseason game. Against the Jags in the exhibition opener, he grabbed five passes for 105 (one for 50), plus two acrobatic, finger-tip, toe-tappers, the first of which resulted in a touchdown.
It's that kind of play-making ability that he has displayed in practice this summer. Though he missed the second game against Tampa Bay, Price has been back on the field this week and says he fully expects to contribute against Detroit this weekend.
"During training camp, I'm treating every practice like a game day," he told reporters Wednesday. "Going out there, working hard, trying to make every single play. I'm not pressing too much, just trusting my abilities, play football, and let everything take care of itself."
He insists he's not pressuring himself, though Price concedes, "You've got to prove yourself each and every week."
Trust is a quality he must earn from both his coaches and, perhaps more importantly, his quarterback. The quickest and most effective way to do that, he claims, is simply to make plays. Like making the tough catches in the middle of the field, not just the highlight-worthy scoring plays like he did against Jacksonville.
"You're going to take some hits going across the middle. Just get back up, go on to the next play," he said. "That helps create confidence in your quarterback, that chemistry that you need.
"It's not challenging, you just have to go out there and play, let your natural instincts as a football player take over, and don't think too much," he stressed. "It's easy to think a lot in this offense – what do I have here, there, what adjustments are there here – if you just know your stuff, be prepared, and let it all hang out, flow, you should be alright."
Asked if he still feels like a rookie, having been a non-factor last season, Price asserted that he felt comfortable entering his second year. He certainly appeared comfortable, with one leg resting on the chair in front of his locker, fielding question after question from the media like a seasoned pro. The 2010 season, he recalled, was a good learning experience for him, even if he wasn't being schooled on the field on Sundays.
"So, I think I'm ready to make that next jump and," he concluded, "contribute to this team as soon as possible."
Brady happy with offensive strides
Addressing reporters from the podium, rather than his locker, today, Brady said he was pleased with where the Patriots offense is at this point, particularly after having no normal off-season to prepare.
"Certainly, we've made progress. We've gotten better, I'd say, from where we started. I remember," he revealed, "being out there the first five or six days [of training camp] and thinking 'Man, we have to get going, we have to get moving.' But that's just part of the learning process and I think that the guys who have been out there practicing, we work hard, whatever coach asks us to do, we do and then sure, you see improvement.
"Plays that we weren't making early in camp, we've been making more," Brady added. "I think there still needs to be much more consistency from everybody. Especially me, I have to be more consistent out there. But you can feel like you're getting into more of a rhythm of the football season now, after being off for a significant period of time without any real activities for us to judge where we were at."
That rhythm has been evident in the first two preseason games, even though Brady did not take part in the opener versus Jacksonville.
"When we get a good play going," he noted, "I really like for us to put the pressure on the defense rather than give them time to catch their breath and I really enjoy that part of – probably why I love being in the two minute drill also. It's a mandatory fast tempo at that point but you're rushing to the line of scrimmage, you can see the coverage, ball's snapped, you make a throw and you're onto the next play and I think if you do that well it can be really a great strength for a team."
Dowling checks in
Rookie DB Ras-I Dowling returned to practice Monday after missing nearly all of training camp with an unknown ailment. He told reporters Wednesday that he's been focusing on whatever he can do, day by day, to stay up to speed, but that nothing beats being out on the field.
"Just happy to be out there with the team, trying to get better every day," he said.
Dowling was a man of few words during his less-than-two-minute Q&A session at the end of today's interview period.
For more on today's practice, please visit the PFW blog.