“From OTA to now, if I had to put it on a scale from zero to 10, I would say like an 8 now,” LaFell said Tuesday. “OTAs I was shell-shocked, didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me."
On Friday, LaFell's former team, the Carolina Panthers, visits the Patriots in preseason action. LaFell knows a thing or two about Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and he's still learning about Tom Brady.
“I’m blessed going from Cam doing his things up-and-coming, real good quarterback and then I come up here with Brady. It’s great” LaFell said.
"Everybody always says a football play is about 8 seconds, but with Cam, he is a big body, he can move, he can stiff-arm a defensive end and 8 seconds can turn to 12 seconds. Brady, he’s not the fastest guy out there, but he [has] a little loose enough in him to make plays.”
The 6-foot-3 LaFell said Brady’s attention to detail, and perfecting the quarterback-to-wide-receiver connection, is one of his main challenges in coming to New England.
“He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be when running a route,” LaFell said. “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 because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.
"The more and more reps I get with this guy, getting our timing better and also he’s trying to find me more."
Coach Bill Belichick sees it too.
"He’s been very diligent in trying to learn his assignments, learn the plays," Belichick said. "He’s a tough kid. He’s played for us in the kicking game, he’s given us some plays there, which at that position it’s always good to get those [plays] out of those receivers. Those are kind of like bonus plays. I think he’s been very competitive. Obviously he’s a big target. Again, he’s gotten better at the routes that we’ve run. I thought the deep out route that he ran in the game was good. He created a lot of separation on that. He’s got a good skill set; a little different than some of our other guys, but good and he’s tough."
Belichick added another compliment that might bode well for LaFell's first season in New England:
"Whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it and done it well. He’s gotten better at it. I think he’ll be able to carve out a role for himself here. It might be a big one, I don’t know, we’ll see."
After spending his previous four seasons with Carolina, LaFell is one of the more experienced pass-catchers on the Patriots' roster. That has helped him build a rapport with Brady.
“I’ve learned in this game that when you go out there and force, force, force every time, something bad happens,” LaFell said. “When you go out there and do your job, be patient, things are going to happen for you.”
On Friday night, LaFell has the opportunity to put his progress on display against his former team in the Patriots’ third preseason game.
“It’s going to be a little weird, just going out there and seeing some of my old teammates, looking at those jerseys knowing I was just in those jerseys last year,” LaFell said. “But I got to do my job.”