Catching it right

Lloyd may be the perfect fit with Patriots

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / May 25, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - A talented player will always get chances.

That might sum up the early seasons of Brandon Lloyd’s NFL career. The receiver bounced from the 49ers to the Redskins to the Bears over his first six years in the league, getting a reputation as someone who was talented but maybe a little troubled and difficult to deal with.

His numbers weren’t that impressive, but he was putting enough on film and showed enough potential that teams kept giving him a shot.

Then came 2009, when Lloyd signed with Denver, reuniting with Kyle Orton, who’d been his quarterback the previous season with Chicago, and pairing with young new head coach Josh McDaniels, an offensive coach whose star had risen quickly in New England working with Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.

Lloyd’s talent and McDaniels’s offensive system were a match. After never topping 800 yards in a season, the lithe 6-footer led the NFL in 2010 with 1,448 yards on 77 catches, 11 of them for touchdowns, despite McDaniels being fired by the Broncos midway through the season.

Lloyd was a Pro Bowler for the first time, and was a second-team All-Pro.

McDaniels was hired by St. Louis as offensive coordinator last year, and when the receiver-needy club went looking for players for quarterback Sam Bradford to get the ball to, he had the team trade for Lloyd.

Once again, Lloyd had respectable numbers: 51 catches, 683 yards, and 5 touchdowns in 11 games; that projects to more than 70 receptions and almost 1,000 yards over a full season.

So when McDaniels was allowed out of his Rams contract to rejoin the Patriots and Lloyd found himself a free agent, was there ever a question as to where the 30-year-old receiver would end up? Even if Lloyd hadn’t gone on record as saying he’d follow McDaniels anywhere, the answer seemed crystal clear.

And there he was Thursday, wearing a silver helmet with the number 88 on the back, showing off the route-running and body control that had long made him appealing to clubs, during the Patriots’ organized team activities.

And it wasn’t just Thursday, with reporters in attendance. Lloyd has impressed all week, showing an easy transition to New England, thanks in large part to his knowledge of the playbook.

“It helps because I’m familiar with the offense,’’ said Lloyd, in his first chat with local reporters since signing with the Patriots in March. “I’m familiar with the nuances of the offense, so that definitely helps with the transition.’’

Asked why he likes McDaniels’s offensive system so much - a system McDaniels learned from Bill Belichick and refined over the years - Lloyd said, “I just feel it was effective. It was effective for the way that I run routes and catch the ball.’’

It isn’t just the system, however.

Lloyd has a clear affection for McDaniels, and said the way he teaches is something that Lloyd relates to, more than he has with other coaches.

“You find something good, you stick with it,’’ he said with a laugh. “I think that’s the case for everybody, with everything in life.’’

Reputation precedes him

His hair pulled back in taut cornrows, Lloyd is affable when talking to a reporter under the midday sun on the turf of his new home stadium. But he had the reputation of being a bit of a malcontent in his previous stops, which runs counter to the man who held eye contact almost constantly during an interview.

Others have seen the flip side.

“I’ve never had an issue with him,’’ said one of Lloyd’s former NFL coaches. “We never had a disagreement. He was never disrespectful with me.

“He is a different personality. He is talented - athletically he is gifted - [but] his personality is unique and different. He can be volatile.

“He can flip and have a completely different personality from one second to the next. I certainly saw those things.

“He can be very engaging, and I don’t think he’s a bad guy, I really don’t, I just think he has a perception sometimes of what he deserves and what he should get, and when he doesn’t get his way, he snaps sometimes.’’

In March, a Broncos source told the Globe that during games when Orton was starting, Lloyd would ask a stats person how many catches and yards he had, and there were times when he could be moody and surly.

Asked if he was misunderstood, Lloyd sort of shrugged.

“I’m just really happy that I’m here right now and I’m productive,’’ he said. “It’s never been anybody’s fault. I’ve never blamed anybody, and it’s just . . . this is my path.’’

Structure in place

The Missouri native, whose leaping ability is illustrated by an impressive 7-foot-2-inch high jump in high school, does acknowledge one thing that gives a big hint as to why he likes McDaniels and why he might be just fine in New England: He thrives off structure.

“I had a coach like that in San Francisco, my receiver coach Jerry Sullivan, who was that way,’’ said Lloyd. “I mean, that was like the first coach that I had where there was no gray area.

“It was black and white: You either do it the way I’m coaching it, or you’re wrong. And that’s when I really started to have success in this league.

“And I do, I like those kind of coaches where there’s no gray area. The coach isn’t trying to cover himself by being in the gray area. It’s boom-boom, and you just follow that.’’

Sullivan, who is now in Jacksonville, came to San Francisco in 2005, which was Lloyd’s final season with the Niners and also his best season before 2010 with Denver.

On the face, his numbers weren’t stellar: 48 catches for 733 yards and 5 touchdowns.

But when you take into account that that 49ers team had perhaps the worst offense of the last decade - with a paltry 2,163 passing yards among four starting quarterbacks - it’s clear that Lloyd was about the only bright spot. He accounted for 25 percent of the passes completed, more than a third of the yards, and five of the eight passing touchdowns.

The former coach agrees that the structure provided by New England will likely be a positive for Lloyd.

“I definitely think that who he’s around will make a difference,’’ the coach said. “I think having somebody like that - and maybe, again, in conjunction with Josh being there - might be a positive thing.

“Someone there in your corner, who has stood on the table for you, and then add that structure and system and what they’ve done, maybe that’s what he needs more than anything else.’’

Nevertheless, the Patriots still took measures to protect themselves when they signed Lloyd. While Lloyd received about $6 million in bonus money, half of that is in the form of an option bonus due in 2013. If he doesn’t work out, the team can cut him loose and save that money.

Lloyd believes that his 2010 season was not a fluke. Though the Patriots have a dozen receivers currently under contract, players Lloyd certainly respects, he does not seem to be worried about his place in this offense.

Asked what he thinks he can do with a quarterback like Brady, Lloyd smiles before he remembers that, this being New England, he can’t say too much.

“I think, you know, as we keep working and as we get better, we should do pretty good,’’ Lloyd said. “I feel pretty confident about that, and we’ll see.’’

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