Patriots' second-year players showing progress

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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has said that often the biggest gains a player will make come between his first and second seasons.

But what happens when the time between the first and second seasons is a lockout, with no supervised workouts, minicamps or OTAs?

Yet some of brightest lights in training camp have been second-year players who had the lost offseason.

One of them is Taylor Price, a fast, physical wide receiver from Ohio University. He had a later graduation date, so he didn't join the team the same time as the other rookies last year, and that slowed his progress.

After being inactive for the first 15 games of his rookie season, Price played in Week 17 against the Dolphins, catching three passes for 41 yards.

With Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco taking three receiver spots, that probably leaves Price and seven others competing for three slots.

In the 47-12 preseason win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, Price stepped up and caught five passes for 105 yards, including an acrobatic 11-yard reception for a score from Brian Hoyer in the second quarter.

''Taylor had some good plays, made a couple good catches,'' Belichick said after the game. ''I thought that was a tough catch he made in the end zone for a touchdown. He had a couple run-after-catch plays down the sideline there on the hitch pattern when he broke a tackle there by the corner. But again, he's done some of those things in practice the last couple weeks, but it was good to see it happen in the game.''

Price said there was no comparison between last season and this season.

''I just put the time in, put the work in, just knowing the playbook that much more after a year of a so-called redshirt year, getting that much more comfortable with the quarterbacks,'' he said.

Belichick also likes having his wide receivers contribute in other areas, and Price had a 43-yard punt return Thursday called back due to a penalty.

''I know I've got skills,'' Price said. ''I believe in myself. I know I've got the talent to play at this level. It's just about going out there and showing these teammates, getting the trust of these teammates and the coaching staff and showing that I can play.''

Linebacker Dane Fletcher was a force in the Jacksonville game with five tackles, two for losses. Belichick also praised Steve Maneri, a former tight end at Temple who's been converted to tackle.

''This year, he's got that whole year of experience of that conversion under his belt,'' said Belichick. ''From a technique standpoint, he's worked hard in the offseason. He's improved his strength and explosion and power and he's still pretty athletic for his size, but he's grown into the position and into the frame that he has and his techniques are a lot better.''

NOTES: The Patriots have signed rookie free agent offensive lineman Zach Roth of Texas Christian and released offensive lineman Chris Morris and defensive lineman Steve Williams. Roth teamed last year on the TCU offensive line with Patriots fifth-round draft pick Marcus Cannon, but Belichick said that was just ''a coincidence'' and no factor in the signing. Morris, a five-year veteran, signed with the Patriots on Aug. 3. Williams was signed by the Patriots on July 30 and most recently spent two seasons with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.

Tagged: Patriots, Chris Morris, Taylor Price

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