Brandon LaFell had played with a successful quarterback when he decided to leave the Carolina Panthers in free agency.
Now his quarterback is Tom Brady.
“I’m blessed, man. I’m real blessed,” LaFell said yesterday, as the Patriots continued preparing for Friday’s preseason game against his old team from Carolina.
“Go from Cam (Newton), who’s doing his thing, he’s up and coming, real good quarterback, established quarterback, and then I come over here with Brady.
“It’s great, man. I’ve been blessed.”
LaFell said it’s “going to be a little weird” seeing his old friends on Friday in Foxborough.
After setting career highs in receptions (49) touchdowns (five) and yards receiving (627), and then catching four passes for 34 yards in the Panthers’ playoff game, LaFell signed a three-year contract for a reported $9 million with the Patriots.
A 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver who can block, he’s had his problems holding on to the ball, but he gives Brady a needed big target.
Brady didn’t throw to LaFell in last week’s game against Philadelphia, the first game they played together last week.
“We’ve been getting better and better, each and every day, each and every week,” said LaFell, who has four catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in the two games. “The more and more reps I get with this guy … it’s only getting our timing better and he’s trying to find me more.”
Meaning he’s getting more comfortable.
“From OTAs, if I had to put it on a scale from zero to 10, like an eight now,” he said. “OTAs I was shell-shocked. I didn’t know what to expect. Everything was all new to me.
“I was in Carolina for the last four years so got used to that routine, got used to that playbook, everything’s new here. And since the beginning of camp I’m feeling way more comfortable.
“Just being in the huddle with Brady, hearing him call the plays and stuff like that, I’m way more comfortable.”
He knows what Brady wants.
“He expects you to be exactly where he wants to be on every route, not a yard off, not a yard too deep, not a yard too short. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be and he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.”
“They’ve been able to work together on a daily basis and I think it continues to improve,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I think we have a long way to go, but they’re definitely making progress.”
Belichick likes what he’s seen from LaFell.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s played for us in the kicking game; he’s given us some plays there … He’s been very competitive, obviously he’s a big target. He’s got a skill set, a little different than some of our other guys, but, good, and he’s tough.”
LaFell was asked about the differences between Newton and Brady.
“Everybody always says a football play is 8 seconds — but with Cam, he’s a big body. He can move. He can get up there and stiff-arm a defensive end and that 8 seconds will turn to 12 seconds — because he broke the pocket and you’re turning back the play. Or you’re running deep because he’s rolling out.
“He always extends plays. With Brady, he’s not the fastest guy out there, but he’s got a little elusiveness in him also to make plays extend.”
LaFell, who had 167 catches for 2,385 yards and 13 touchdowns in four years with Carolina, saw the growth in Newton.
“Man, it’s night and day, man,” he said. “That guy, when he first came in he did everything off talent. Once he got with Coach (offensive coordinator Mike) Shula, he really worked on his game, worked on his fundamentals, the guy started to blow up, man. Now, he’s one of the best in the game.
“I tell everybody the same story, man. He has everything you wish for in a football player. He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got his ability, toughness. He can do it all.”
NOTES: Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who had his 2013 season ended with a torn pectoral muscle, wouldn’t say what caused him to miss last week’s game and practices against the Eagles. Asked why he was out after practicing the week before, Mayo said, “Ask Coach Belichick, everything’s good … I feel good. I went out there yesterday and ran around a little bit, so I feel good.” … Cornerback Darrelle Revis is ready for the regular season. “The butterflies are coming back,” he said. “You get anxious and you get real excited just to start the season back up. This is a great game we play. We’ve just got to continue to keep on pushing and get to that point.”