FOXBORO - What's in a number? A lot more than you might think.
For the Patriots' newest wide receiver, Brandon LaFell, it took a lot of thought for him to choose the number he'll be wearing next season.
"Picking the number 19, it was either 10 or 19," he said via conference call Wednesday. "When I think of the number 10, I just think of quarterbacks. I thought about Vince Young, I thought about RG3 (Robert Griffin III), so I didn't want to be in that mind frame of a quarterback. Me and my boy Ted Ginn are really good friends, and I decided to wear 19 just like he does."
LaFell was part of the league-wide fire sale on Carolina Panthers' receivers, signing as a free agent with the Patriots for three years and $9 million ($3 million guaranteed as a signing bonus). That's a fairly good bargain for an athletic 27-year-old receiver that may not burn his name into the record books, but should provide the Patriots with a taller option along the sidelines that may be reminiscent of David Givens in his prime.
"I think I'm very versatile," LaFell said. "I can play inside and outside and it just depends on where these guys want to put me. I don't care. If they want me to play outside, if they want me to play inside, I just want to be wherever the ball is going, I want to help this team win."
LaFell said one of the main reasons he chose to sign with the Patriots was to have the chance to play with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady.
"One day Cam (Newton) will be there probably, but he's not there now," LaFell said. "I felt like it was a better chance to come up here to get more balls and win up here than it was in Carolina.
"Nothing against those guys, it's a great organization," he added. "Those guys are going to win, I can see them winning but it's proven up here, man. We were winning last year in Carolina. These guys were winning up here for the last 10-plus years, so why not come to a winning organization?"
Entering his fifth year out of Louisiana State, LaFell caught 49 of
Newton's passes last year for 627 yards and five touchdowns. Had he stayed in Carolina, he might not have had his quarterback until training camp because of Newton's recent ankle surgery, so it's assumed his progress of learning the Patriots' system with Brady will progress smoothly.
It just can't start yet, however. Brady's not around.
"He was out of the country, so he's going to give me a call when he gets back in," LaFell said. "We just spoke through text a couple times."
LaFell has one solid Patriot connection. He and running back Stevan Ridley were teammates at LSU.
"I called Ridley when I was at the airport heading up," he said. "He was out training on the West Coast. He was so excited. He was like, 'You have to be lying to me right now.' I was like, 'I'm in the airport, I'm headed to Providence.'"
LaFell said Ridley sees him as the sort of veteran presence that can help the Patriots' youthful receiving corps.
"He said, 'Man, I'm going to tell you just like I tell everybody else, you have to come up here and be able to sacrifice your off-the-field life for things you have to do - put in extra time on film and extra work at the practice facility,'" LaFell said. "He just kept saying the word sacrifice, sacrifice and hard work. 'If you're committed to do that with the rest of the guys, you're going to fit in well and help us win games.'"
LaFell also made a point of underscoring his willingness to block. One of the knocks against him has been a lack of physicality, but he said he has steadily tried to improve his blocking skills since his LSU days and will redouble the effort here.
"I thought I had a chance to play (at LSU) because I had just about as much ability as anyone catching the ball, running, jumping and everything else," he said. "But I wouldn't touch a soul, I wouldn't block a soul. But one day, Coach (Les) Miles took my helmet on the sideline, the Arizona State game, and I came in and met with him the following week and he told me I had to get physical, I had to learn how to block or I wouldn't play football on this team.
"Ever since that day, I just took it upon myself to make sure I did that and did it with pride," he said.