Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO – Being Riley McCarron means that, as an apprentice Patriot slot receiver, you will be immediately compared to guys who’ve played that position before (or still do).
Which means you will be compared to some of the best to ever play the spot.

So McCarron, a second-year player out of Iowa who’s laboring to catch on in this training camp, is (for now) part of a lineage that goes from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

The lights will truly go up for McCarron this week as the Patriots get ready for their first preseason game against Washington. The 5-9, 198-pounder figures to get every opportunity to carve a niche with the team somewhere – receiver, kickoffs, punt returns. The opportunity is there.

With Edelman down for the first four games of the season and the Patriots kicking over rocks to find receiver help this summer, McCarron can make things easy for them if he can A) know where needs to be B) get where he needs to be and C) execute when he gets there.

Through the first week of camp he had solid moments. And – particularly in the last two practices – he had shaky ones.

MORE PATRIOTS

On Thursday, he drew the ire of Tom Brady by failing to line up correctly during a situation 11-on-11 drill, forcing Brady to call timeout and summon Edelman to replace him. Later, running an option route, Brady targeted McCarron at the linebacker level but figured McCarron would stay put. When McCarron broke to the outside, Brady threw incomplete behind McCarron and bellowed his displeasure.

 

On Saturday, during a punt return period, McCarron muffed a punt on the final rep of the 11-on-11 session. That too drew the vocal ire of a teammate on the return team.

If the old adage that it’s better to be yelled at than ignored is true, McCarron is still in a good spot.

“The fact he gets to come out here and get yelled at is where you want to be,” said Edelman. “If they’re yelling at you, they care about you and Riles is a tough kid. He comes out and works hard. I love his attitude. He’s got some dog in him and he’s gone the long road. He makes the group better. He makes us all want to compete.”

Undrafted last April, McCarron caught on with the Texans and spent training camp in Houston.

He impressed head coach Bill O’Brien with his work ethic (O’Brien called him the “spitting image” of Welker, who was on the Houston staff last year). He was released at the end of camp, signed to the Texans practice squad then released again in September. The Patriots picked him up and put him on their practice squad where he spent the rest of the season.  

McCarron is starting from where all his predecessors began. The NFL mail room. Amendola and Welker were undrafted. Brown was an eighth-round pick when they used to have eight rounds. Edelman was a seventh-rounder. But, truth be told, he doesn’t have the same resume those players had in college.

MORE TRAINING CAMP

The other four were immensely productive at that level. McCarron caught just 50 passes in 46 games for the Hawkeyes and returned 24 kicks.

What he does have, though, are similar measurables. He’s not as stocky as Edelman, Welker or Brown. He more closely resembles Amendola. But McCarron’s short shuttle of 3.96 is in the neighborhood of the 3.92 Edelman ran at his pro day. And his 6.47 short shuttle and 4.41 40 time are both indicative of a guy with exceptional speed and change of direction.

It’s the nuance of the position in what is perhaps the NFL’s most difficult offense to master that is tough to harness.

“Little things you do see (that remind me of when I was beginning),” said Edelman. “Just the confusion or you know – I mean you got to think about it. You’re a young guy and you’re going into a whole new system, you’re going into a whole new part of the country you probably haven’t been.

“You know, you’ve got to learn calculus when you just got out of regular math,” he explained. “So you definitely can relate to a lot of those things and try to help them out as much as possible to get them to feel a little more comfortable. And I think that’s what we all try to do. We all try to learn from each other and help each other out and that’s – as a veteran that’s what you got to do I guess.”

 

“Jules has been great to be around,” said McCarron. “Same with Hogan and Phil (Dorsett). But you need to be someone the (quarterbacks) can trust whether it’s Danny (Etling), Brian (Hoyer) or Tom. … It’s the most competitive atmosphere I’ve ever been around. Every day you will come out and compete and be working hard and working hard doesn’t make you exceptional. It just makes you part of the team. You have to go to work and it’s a battle all practice long.”

And when the verbal lashings come?

“You can’t get too down on yourself,” he said. “You need to make the correction and move on. Next time, in that same situation, make the right decision and prove you can make the correction and be counted on.”

It’s a big week for McCarron to prove he’s headed in the right direction. Because the train doesn’t stop for anyone.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE