FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Six games into his career with the New England Patriots, Chad Ochocinco has just nine catches — and one vote of confidence from his offensive coordinator.
Now comes the team’s bye week with Ochocinco’s role still evolving.
Will it expand? Will it remain limited? Or will he even be on the Patriots when they resume play on Oct. 30 at the Pittsburgh Steelers?
“Ocho’s progressing every week,” coordinator Bill O’Brien said Monday. “He’s done a really good job in practice and when he’s been in certain parts of games, he’s produced, two-minute drives at the end of halves and things.
“And we’re happy with where Ocho is right now.”
Since being traded by Cincinnati on July 28, Ochocinco has struggled with the complex playbook, much more complicated than the ones he had for 10 years with the Bengals.
The Patriots haven’t needed him to help them to the best record in the AFC, 5-1 after Sunday’s 20-16 win over Dallas. He played sparingly against the Cowboys and didn’t have a reception for just the sixth time in his 157 regular-season games.
And with wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch and outstanding pass catching tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots can afford to be patient with Ochocinco.
Welker is averaging 131 yards receiving a game. Ochocinco has a total of 136.
“This is a unique place,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that contribute, and some guys in certain games are contributing more than others and, at some point in time, we’re going to need everybody to contribute. … And Ocho’s probably in that category and really working hard to keep producing and, eventually, help us in different ways.”
Player personnel director Nick Caserio praised Ochocinco on Monday as “probably one of our best practice players.”
And, he said, “we’re six games in. It’s a long season. So, I mean, we’re happy that Chad’s on the team.”
When asked directly if he foresaw Ochocinco staying with the team, Caserio gave no guarantee.
“The players that are on the team, we’re happy that they’re here,” he said, “and until something changes, then they’ll be here and we’ll continue to work with the players as much as we can.”
Albert Haynesworth is one of those players.
The defensive tackle traded by the Washington Redskins the same day as Ochocinco was obtained has just two tackles and two quarterback hurries in four games, missing the other two with a back injury.
“That missed time is a little bit of a hurdle for anybody,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday, but Haynesworth made “several good plays” against Dallas.
Caserio also has seen progress from Haynesworth.
“The more Albert has practiced and been able to work out some of the techniques and some of the things that we’re doing in practice,” Caserio said, “then that starts to carry over into the game. So it’s a good start. (He’s) still got a long way to go here, but, certainly, (it’s) encouraging with some of the things that he’s done.”
The Patriots obtained Haynesworth for a fifth-round draft choice in 2013. Ochocinco cost them a fifth-round pick in 2012 and a sixth-rounder in 2013.
Going into his final preseason game, just five weeks after the trade, Ochocinco was optimistic that he was picking up the offensive system quicker than expected.
“I’ll be there a lot faster than when I’m supposed to be, especially with as much verbiage as I’ve had to learn in such a short period of time,” he said then. “The transition has been extremely good.”
Not good enough for him to emerge as a reliable target for Brady.
On Sunday, Brady threw to him just once. The pass fell incomplete on the first play of a drive after Dallas tied the score 13-13 with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
Brady appeared to be yelling at Ochocinco as the receiver headed back toward the huddle, but O’Brien took some of the blame for the play.
“That was probably more me than anything,” he said, “going to the well a little too often on something there and (I) probably didn’t put him in the best position.”
At Cincinnati, Ochocinco had 751 catches. He was known for his creative touchdown celebrations, interesting interviews and entertaining tweets.
All that has changed with the Patriots.
He hasn’t scored. And he’s rarely spoken to the press or tweeted after being told to cut back with a team that frowns on colorful comments. He did not speak after Sunday’s win.
On the go-ahead 10-play, 80-yard drive that began with 2:31 left and ended on Hernandez’s 8-yard touchdown catch with 22 seconds to go, Brady completed passes to four receivers as Ochocinco watched from the sidelines.
Now the Patriots have two days of practice before a five-day break that starts Thursday. It could be a busy one for Ochocinco — more studying, watching film and preparing to make a bigger contribution.
“We’re happy with what Chad’s done for us,” Caserio said. “He competes. He’s made plays when he’s had the opportunity.”