ONCE KINKS GET WORKED OUT, OCHOCINCO WILL MAKE BIG IMPACTBy Chris Forsberg
A quiet preseason has tempered expectations for Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, but the weapons around him in New England's offense leave him poised for big contributions.
Let's start with the negative: In three preseason appearances, Ochocinco totaled just three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown. Held without a catch as the Patriots got throttled in Detroit during Week 3 of the exhibition season, some wondered whether Ochocinco might be panning out like Joey Galloway, the veteran receiver dumped after three games when he couldn't find chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady in 2009.
Let's remember that Galloway was 38 at the time (in an encouraging sign for Ochocinco, Galloway put together a trio of 1,000-yard seasons with Tampa Bay starting at age 34 in 2005). Ochocinco admitted last week that he's still a work in progress, but here's the intriguing part: Once he does get comfortable with Brady and a new offense, there's enough talent in New England to rekindle his production.
"I'm trying to squeeze everything within a shorter time frame," Ochocinco said last week. "If I can aim to be as perfect as possible, I think I'll get up to speed."
And he'll be up to speed in an offense that may be more talented than any Brady has guided before, at least at the receiver position.
Consider this: Even as tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski emerged last season during their rookie campaigns, the Patriots were still leaning on recently waived Brandon Tate as their third receiver and needed to bring in Deion Branch to solidify a receiving corps thinned by Randy Moss's departure.
Then-rookie Julian Edelman and special-teams guy Sam Aiken were New England's top pass-catchers behind Moss and Wes Welker in 2009, while Jabar Gaffney was the only receiver other than Moss and Welker to record double-digit catches in 2008.
In 2007, Donte' Stallworth and Gaffney combined for 82 catches for 1,146 yards and eight TDs during the first year of the Moss-Welker combo. Could we see that sort of production from Ochocinco this season playing alongside Branch and Welker?
With three legitimate top-tier receivers on this team -- coupled with two versatile tight ends and a pass-catching back like Danny Woodhead -- defenses are going to have to be cautious in how they defend the Patriots' offense. And Ochocinco has potential for a big year if teams can't key on him.
WHAT YOU'VE SEEN FROM OCHOCINCO IS LIKELY WHAT YOU'LL GETBy Mike Reiss
Over his 10-year NFL career, Chad Ochocinco has averaged 75 receptions per season. A combination of factors can lead one to believe he'll fall short of that in 2011.
The primary reasons that come to mind: 1) Ochocinco hasn't shown consistent separation from defensive backs in training camp and preseason games; 2) the way the offense is structured, he won't be a featured target; and 3) the complex offensive system, coupled with the condensed time to learn it, creates an added challenge.
Add it all up and it's possible that the Tom Brady-to-Ochocinco connection never fully clicks, as we saw with Joey Galloway in 2009. The Patriots gave Galloway a few weeks into the season before they aborted that experiment; the hope that Galloway could add a vertical threat to the offense was never realized.
But there are a few big differences between Ochocinco and Galloway.
First, the Patriots have more invested in Ochocinco after paying him a $4.5 million signing bonus, so one would figure he'll at least get this year to make it work. Galloway earned about a quarter of that. Also, Ochocinco is putting in all the necessary work behind the scenes, something some in New England felt Galloway did not.
It's safe to assume Ochocinco will be better than Galloway, but how much better? Putting him in the category of what Jabar Gaffney contributed from 2006-08 sounds about right, which might best be described as "solid, not spectacular."
So when asking the question "What type of impact will Ochocinco have in 2011?" the choice here is "lower than one might expect."
The Patriots' offense still goes through receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Aaron Hernandez looks primed to become a major weapon if healthy. Ochocinco falls into line after that with others, which is why the idea that he will make a major impact seems off the mark.
The preseason hasn't looked all that smooth, with Ochocinco targeted 10 times and making just three receptions. There have been a few drops as well. Along the way, Ochocinco has preached patience and that's fair.
It's way too early to write him off.
But at the same time, to those who envision big-time numbers ahead, one question is asked: "Based on what?"
This is very much a work in progress.