FOXBORO -- Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell smiled as he remembered the play. It occurred just a couple of hours earlier during a rain-soaked training camp practice against the Eagles, and it served as a sign of just how far he has come in five months since signing with New England as a free agent.
On a deep out-route, with Philadelphia corner Roc Carmichael draped on him, LaFell stopped short, cut to the sideline, reached out and snagged a Tom Brady pass with his fingertips.
"It was one of those plays that we ran it against our defense I think the first week of training camp," LaFell said, "and I ended up falling at the top end of the route."
LaFell has developed into one of Brady's preferred targets over the last week of practices. Things started to turn for him in Richmond, Virginia during joint work with the Redskins, and over the last few days at Gillette Stadium the chemistry he has with his new quarterback has been evident.
The back-shoulder throws that once were mistimed are now completed with relative ease. When there's a coverage to be read, it appears as though Brady and LaFell are seeing the same things in the opposing secondary. Even the drops -- a weakness in LaFell's game that became well-publicized after his signing in March -- have become fewer and farther between.
According to Brady, who has had a history of trust issues with receivers who are slow to pick up the Patriots offense, LaFell's on-the-field execution has made significant strides of late.
"I’ve really enjoyed being with him," Brady said after Wednesday's practice. "He’s added a lot. He’s got a real love for the game, and he does a great job out there getting open. He just keeps making more plays. It’s really fun for a quarterback to see guys out there really working hard to make the improvements and then really do it, and hopefully it continues to carry over. It’s been a lot of fun to be with him."
LaFell says his recent success in practice is a result of his greater understanding of the offense. He told a story of one play in the Patriots playbook where the name of a formation is the same word as the name for something else in his old Carolina playbook. Earlier this preseason, he'd leave the huddle thinking like a Panthers receiver.
"I get to the line and I come out the huddle, and 'Aw hell, that's the play, that's not the formation,' " LaFell said. "But I'm getting used to it now."
Thanks in part to second-year receiver Aaron Dobson being held out of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills as he recovers from foot surgery, LaFell's also getting more and more reps with Brady and the rest of the first-team offense.
It's helped boost more than just his confidence. It's aided his timing and allowed him to better understand where Brady wants him to run his routes from play to play.
"I'm enjoying all these reps I'm getting, man," LaFell said. "You can't get mad when you're out there, you're getting reps and then getting the ball thrown your way. I'm enjoying it, and I need it right now because I'm new to this offense. I need to get as much time with Tom as I can. Preseason, that's what you need. Get your timing so when you come into the season there won't be no setbacks."
LaFell is a unique option in the Patriots receiving corps. At 6-foot-2 he's one of the team's tallest wideouts, but he can play in different spots along the line of scrimmage and he has the ability to run a variety of routes. It's a lot for him to process, but instead of being bogged down by the responsibility, he's gradually becoming more fluent in the offense.
"I understand the playbook, I know multiple positions so I'm feeling more comfortable," he said. "I'm able to go out there and just play fast without thinking about it now."
The faster he plays, the more respect he's earned from his quarterback -- something that he knows can be difficult to come by.