WR Josh Boyce making plays in OTA

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In the latter portions of the Patriots’ organized team activities (OTAs) on Thursday, second-year receiver Josh Boyce caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in red zone passing drills.

One nuance of the play highlighted how Boyce, the 2013 fourth-round draft choice from Texas Christian, is feeling more comfortable in the team's offense.

Lined up to the right side, Boyce slow-played his route before snapping it off towards the sideline, a sudden change to uncover himself and create a clear window in which Garoppolo could deliver his on-time strike.

“Patient route,” Boyce explained afterward. “Just reading the defender, feeling out the defense and where the leverage is. Broke out, and made a play on the ball.”

The speedy Boyce (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) flashed the ability to make plays in limited action last season, appearing in nine games (179 offensive snaps) and totaling nine catches for 121 yards. He also had nine kickoff returns for 214 yards (23.8 average) with a long of 41 yards. After being used sparingly through the first 11 games of the season, Boyce was thrust into a greater role in early December, but any momentum he had built was stunted by an ankle injury sustained Dec. 15 in a road loss to the Dolphins, which landed him on injured reserve.

Healthy again, he’s back on the right track and has been taking repetitions as a top kickoff returner in OTAs, while also showing up in the passing game. (We counted 3 TD catches on Thursday.)

While no one wins a job in a June OTA, and the real football doesn’t begin until the pads come on, Boyce has at least put himself in position to make the often-talked-about “second-year leap.” That jump for second-year players can be especially significant for receivers who enter the draft after their junior seasons, as Boyce did in 2013.

Often referred to as "JB" by quarterback Tom Brady and teammates, Boyce now feels he is playing faster, a result of having a better understanding of the offense. The touchdown catch from Garoppolo on Thursday provided some on-field evidence of that.

Boyce was asked if he would have been able to execute the same play last year at this time.

“I think I could have, but it might not have been as … I don’t know how to say it,” he answered. “I feel like I know it more. I wouldn’t have been as [patient]. I might have just went instead of slowing down and waiting.”