FOXBORO -- It was a head-shaker of a penalty for Josh Boyce.
On a third-and-five play against the Redskins in last week's preseason game, Ryan Mallett completed a dart to Kenbrell Thompkins for seven yards and a first down. But thanks to a rare offensive offsides penalty on Boyce -- meaning he had lined up over the line of scrimmage -- the play was called back.
Boyce was allowed to atone for his mistake on the very next play, however, when Mallett found him for a 15-yard gain and a drive-extending first down. He finished the game with three catches for 30 yards on five targets.
"I think I did pretty good," Boyce said on Thursday, a day before New England's preseason game with the Eagles. "I mean I had the offsides, that was one thing. Other than that I think I had a pretty good game. Just learn from the mistakes I had and build on that."
The 2013 fourth-round pick should have opportunities on Friday to make plays as part of what is currently a deep receiving group. Including special teamer Matthew Slater, there are 11 wideouts on the team with each looking for a way to stand out and earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
For Boyce, like Slater, excelling on special teams could be his ticket.
While he's has had up-and-down moments as a receiver in training camp -- last week's performance at FedEx Field being an example of those -- he would help himself secure his standing with the club if he were able to sew up the job as kick returner.
Since losing last year's primary returner LeGarrette Blount to free agency, both Boyce and undrafted rookie running back Roy Finch have split kick-return duties throughout camp, with Boyce lining up next to Matthew Slater in Slater's usual traffic-director role and Finch lining up with rookie running back James White.
Finch is exceptionally quick and seems to possess good vision, but he fumbled during a kick return against the Redskins and muffed a punt later in the game.
If Boyce can use his top-end speed and raw playmaking ability to make an impact in the kicking game -- and if he can hold onto the ball -- it's a gig that could be his.
"I got a little speed on me, quickness," Boyce said. "Gotta see where you're going and things like that. I think I'm pretty good for [the kick-returner job]."
Though from year to year every team's training camp roster differs in its positional depth, and realizing very few jobs are truly safe in August, history tells us that Boyce may have a pretty good chance of sticking with the team even without the safety net of earning the kick-return duties.
Since taking over in New England, every receiver that Bill Belichick has drafted has lasted at least two seasons, save for 2012 seventh-round pick Jeremy Ebert who was released during his rookie-year training camp.
Fourth-round picks often get a couple of years to get their feet under them, as well. Of the 16 fourth-rounders taken by Belichick before Boyce, only four (Jabari Holloway, Dexter Reid, Garrett Mills, Kareem Brown) didn't make it to their second regular season.
Understanding that Boyce left Texas Christian University as a junior and then lost a chunk of his rookie season to injury means that he still very likely possess enough upside to warrant a roster spot. Earning the kick-returner job would only help his value.
We'll be keeping a close eye on Boyce's play, both in the offense and in the kicking game, tonight against the Eagles.