Veteran wide receiver Eric Decker did not see any work with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Friday’s preseason head-to-head with the Panthers. In fact, Decker didn’t even draw into action until the second half. Historically speaking, given that this was the third preseason game of their four-game slate, that’s not an encouraging sign when it comes to making the roster.
And to make matters worse, it’s not as if Decker found a way to thrive against second- and third-string defensive matchups, as he finished Friday’s loss with just two catches (on five targets) for a total of 12 yards. This is sort of in line with what Decker’s tenure as a Patriot has been between noticeable struggles to catch the ball and without much chemistry with the quarterbacks.
Still, Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t see anything wrong with Decker’s ability to grasp what the Patriots are doing.
“I think Eric’s learned everything well,” Belichick offered during a Saturday conference call. “Again, [Decker] had a background in this system in Denver with Josh [McDaniels] and he’s played multiple positions in the offense since he’s been here. We used a couple new formations [Friday] so I don’t think learning is really a problem for him, and he has a lot of experience [with] some of the more sophisticated routes, option routes and things like that are all things that he’s done.”
And with the ability to line up as a slot receiver or outside threat, Decker’s value to the New England offense is something that could certainly improve if he gets on the same page with a more consistent offensive group, according to Belichick.
“It’s just really a question of getting the timing and the exactly how you want to do it and seeing enough looks on it so that you and the quarterback know exactly what it is,” Belichick acknowledged. “In training camp when you’re working with multiple quarterbacks and multiple receivers, [it] takes a little time to get everybody to get those looks so one quarterback might see one picture and then the next picture is just slightly different and making sure that the quarterbacks and the receivers again see those the same way and they can anticipate what’s going to happen. But that just comes through repetitions and experience. But he’s learned well and he’s been able to play multiple positions for us so that’s not a problem.”
If there’s any positive Decker can take from this forgettable-to-date preseason, though, it’s that he’s survived while others (Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, and Malcolm Mitchell) haven’t. And that the competition around him is in the same boat when it comes to their unfamiliarity with the notoriously picky Brady, seemingly giving him a believable leg-up against unknowns like Braxton Berrios (who missed his second straight preseason game on Friday), Paul Turner, and Devin Lucien.
The Patriots conclude their preseason schedule on the road next Thursday against the Giants.