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Why did the Ochocinco experiment fail?

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  June 7, 2012 05:01 PM

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FOXBOROUGH – So the Chad Ochocinco experiment is officially over after he was informed he will be released by the team after one season, 15 catches and $5.75 million.

We’ve written some on Ochocinco’s struggles, and this was something that was on the wall for a while. Wrote this in late February:

The more people I talk to about Ochocinco, the more convinced I am that it’s never going to work for him in this offense. It just seems like he’ll never get it. But depending on the other moves, he could be back under a restructured contract, then subject to a release. The team and players loved having him around. He was a terrific teammate, just not even close to being effective.
So what was the problem with Ochocinco in this offense?

According to multiple sources, he just doesn’t have the football I.Q. that he appeared to have while with the Bengals. The Patriots would literally tell him to run a route a certain way, and a minute later he would run it the other way. It happened all the time.

That being said, considering the Patriots paid him $5.75 million for his first season, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. He came in during a lockout and this offense is much different than Cincinnati. Receivers have to make reads before and after the snap, as receivers coach Chad O’Shea talked about at the Super Bowl.

“At times, there are four decisions that a receiver needs to make after the snap the way our offense is,’’ O’Shea said. “That’s one of the advantages of our offense, that we give players a lot of flexibility within the system to take what the defense gives us. And that’s definitely something that’s unique about our offense.”

That can be a tough challenge for a player, and it proved to be for Ochocinco. But in fairness, he didn’t have an offseason during the lockout and had to deal with it on the fly during training camp. At times, he did show flashes of getting it during the season. So for the Patriots, it was understandable that they would give him another chance after he agreed to take a pay cut to $925,000 for this season. There was no further financial risk in giving him more time to get it. And Ochocinco is still physically talented. He’s in great shape, still has terrific feet, and solid hands.

But when offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien left for Penn State and Josh McDaniels returned, it put Ochocinco further behind. Not only was he catching up on the old stuff, he was trying to learn the new wrinkles. It wasn’t working.

The truth is, it was probably never going to work. What the Patriots didn’t realize watching Ochocinco on film while with the Bengals was, according to several league sources, he ran the routes he wanted to there and it drove quarterback Carson Palmer nuts -- especially later in his Bengals career. But Palmer was smart enough to realize that no matter where Ochocinco was running, he was probably going to get open because his feet are that good down the field. And after so many reps together, Palmer had a good feel for where Ochocinco would end up.

That can play in the Bengals’ offense, but not with the Patriots. This offense is so precise that if one player is in the wrong spot, it throws off the entire system – not to mention it irks Brady, who wants to be in total control at all times on the field.

“I have to trust in Deion and Wes [Welker] and all those guys out there to be in the right spot so I can play fast and anticipate what they’re doing,” he said. “If everyone is not on the same page then it doesn’t work. A lot of what these practices are about is everybody getting on the same page. You have a lot of new guys from other teams, rookies. The faster we can get up to speed and get better as unit, the better we’re going to be.”

Look, the Ochocinco experiment didn’t work. We all know that now. And, yes, it cost the Patriots $5.75 million and two draft picks. But I still think the risk was worth it. The Patriots just miscalculated on Ochocino’s football intelligence.

If there’s any lesson to be learned in the experiment, it’s that the Patriots had to do more research on certain players before they acquired them. According to sources, that lesson was learned before this offseason when the Patriots signed several free agents – only after doing a ton of investigation into them. The team no longer just relied on game film. They found a rock-solid source that vouched for each player this time around.

So on the field, yes, the Ochocinco move failed. But you learn something in every transaction, whether it works out or not. If the new additions put the team over the top this season, perhaps it wasn’t a total loss.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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