Where will Price's snaps come from?

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
4:27
PM ET
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesPatriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien wants to see more of wide receiver Taylor Price.
During a conference call with the media on Tuesday, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said he'd like to see an increased role for second-year wide receiver Taylor Price. The lingering question is where exactly those reps would come from.

The Patriots have run a total of 505 offensive snaps (penalties included) this season with more than half (273) coming out of a 2-wide receiver/2-tight end/1-running back package. In fact, only 34.9 percent of the team's snaps (176) have come with three receivers or more on the field. That's kept snap totals low for everyone but the team's top receiver combo of Wes Welker (453) and Deion Branch (429).

Depth receivers like Price (7), Chad Ochocinco (163), Julian Edelman (48), and Matthew Slater (38) have been used in bite-sized chunks. In fact, of those 256 total snaps between them, 81 of those were running plays, meaning those receivers have run routes on only 175 snaps. To some degree, it explains the lack of receiver production beyond Branch and Welker.

At first blush, it would seem Price is likely to bite into Ochocinco's snap total, likely assuming an outside spot in three-receiver packages. As Ochocinco continues to offer virtually nothing in the way of production on the field -- zero receptions over 18 snaps in the team's last two games -- maybe O'Brien wants to see what Price is capable of doing and if those snaps are better utilized in developing a young player with potential instead of a soon-to-be 34-year-old with a big paycheck. The Patriots could also find a way to give both Price and Ochocinco some additional reps, hoping to get them going a bit if they need them later in the season, while reeling in the number of snaps for Welker and Branch, or increasing the number of three-receiver sets.

Price showed a bit of his potential Sunday against the Steelers. On New England's first offensive play of the fourth quarter, he was on the field in a three-tight end set. It's a spot that we've sometimes seen Slater in and Price did a good job of getting open downfield against single coverage out of a play-action fake.

In fact, if Brady didn't float the pass, leaving it behind Price as he crossed the deep part of the field, there was an awful lot of running room ahead of the receiver (see the screenshot below).

Brady to Price

There's simply not enough of a sample during the 2011 regular season to know what Price is capable of (three of his seven snaps were running plays). Price did look sharp early in the preseason (catching five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown) before tweaking his hamstring. That injury left him inactive for the first three weeks of the regular season. He didn't play his first offensive snap of the season until Week 6 against Dallas.

Price was inactive for New England's first 15 games last season and made his NFL debut in Week 17 against the Dolphins, catching three passes (on four targets) for 41 yards while working with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer.

The production from New England's second-year tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (both of whom can line up in receiver-like slots) has eased the need for another receiver to step up. But the Patriots could really benefit from the emergence of a pure third receiver and Price might get the chance to be that if O'Brien finds ways to ramp up his snaps.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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