Saturday, November 26, 2011
Taylor Price is right on time?
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The potential is there, peeking out occasionally over the past two years, but New England Patriots receiver Taylor Price has mostly remained in the background. That could change Sunday in Philadelphia.
If it turns out to be the case, a result of disappointing No. 3 receiver Chad Ochocinco missing practice Friday and being declared out against the Eagles, and No. 2 target Deion Branch limited with a hamstring injury, Price says he's ready to seize the opportunity to catch more passes from quarterback Tom Brady.
Could Taylor Price be on the verge of a breakout performance?
There haven't been many for him since arriving in New England as a third-round draft choice last year (90th overall).
In 2010, the lack of action was expected as Price was transitioning from an option-based offense at Ohio to a sophisticated NFL passing attack. The only time Price saw the field was in the season finale, a playoff berth already locked up and backups getting the call, and he finished with three catches for 41 yards.
Albeit in a small sample size, the size (6-foot, 205 pounds) and speed (4.4 in the 40) that drew the Patriots to Price in the first place was easy to see that day. Then there was the 2011 preseason opener, another promising sign as Price dazzled with a five-catch, 105-yard performance that included a leaping touchdown grab from backup QB Brian Hoyer.
All has been quiet on the Price front since, no momentum carried over in part because of hamstring injuries -- one later in the preseason, the other coming three weeks ago as offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was trying to integrate him more into the mix.
Those have been frustrating, for sure, but Price (three games played in 2011) reports things haven't felt better than they did this week. The timing is important, as Branch had trouble getting loose during Monday night's win over the Chiefs and has been limited in practice, while Ochocinco is now apparently ailing.
"My legs feel great. My body feels good, I'm taking care of it every day, keeping up with my treatments," Price said Friday, the day Ochocinco unexpectedly missed practice before the Patriots on Saturday night declared him out for Sunday with a hamstring injury. "There are a couple of guys banged up. You want to take advantage of all the reps you get and hopefully make them count."
Price worked at a few receiver spots in practice this week and is coming off his most extensive playing time of the season Monday against the Chiefs, when he was on the field for the final 10 offensive plays at a time the outcome was well in hand.
While it might have been viewed as "garbage time" to some, that's not the way Price saw it. He understands that simply being in the same huddle as Brady is important, because earning his QB's trust and consistently proving he will be in the right place are the first steps for any young receiver in the Patriots' system.
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"Any time I can get in there and get some more reps under my belt, it's good, no matter what time of the game is, and no matter what the score is," Price said, before touching on the process of building a rapport with Brady. "We do a lot of work. We've been talking a lot, going over game plans, throwing more balls, catching more balls."
The closest they came to connecting was Oct. 30 in Pittsburgh, when Price gained separation deep -- something not many Patriots receivers have done this year -- but Brady underthrew him. It's plays like that, along with the 2010 season finale and 2011 preseason opener, which provide a tease of sorts to Patriots followers with Price.
Now the Patriots might be forced to thrust their young, promising receiver onto the field more Sunday. If not Price, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater would be in line for more time.
Of that group, no one has sparked more discussion than Price, mainly because of his third-round draft status and the Patriots' struggles to develop young receivers in recent years.
Could a long-awaited Price breakthrough be coming Sunday in Philadelphia?
This will be one of the more compelling storylines to follow.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.