FOXBOROUGH — Greg Salas suddenly finds himself in a situation in which every catch he makes may be critical. A trade from the rebuilding Rams to the Patriots has increased the sense of urgency.
As the Patriots prepare for their season opener against the Titans in Nashville Sunday, Salas is feverishly trying to familiarize himself with a new playbook, although it’s authored by former Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, now in the same role with New England.
Salas was on his way to a sparkling rookie season in 2011 before breaking his leg in Week 9. After failing to make an impact with the Rams in training camp this season, he was shipped to the Patriots Saturday for a late-round draft pick in 2015. He hopes to boost New England’s receiving corps.
The Patriots released former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, along with veterans Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth last week, giving Salas an opportunity to contribute as a backup to Wes Welker in the slot position.
“I’m just happy to be here and am ready to do what’s asked of me,’’ Salas said. “I was able to work with [McDaniels] last year and I’m able to work with him again this year. He was my coach last year and our offensive coordinator and he’s offensive coordinator here, so I have familiarity with everything.
“I play hard and do everything that a team asks of me and that’s what I’m here for. I feel like I can play both [slot and outside receiver]. Just refreshing myself with the material and concentrating on everything about Tennessee.’’
Coach Bill Belichick did not offer many specifics on Salas, who averaged 9.8 yards per catch as a rookie, but he lauded his skills.
“We felt that he would be able to help our football team,’’ Belichick said. “He’s got some versatility and we’ll put him out there and see how it goes. Sure, Josh had some firsthand experience with the player, no question. But we scouted him coming out of Hawaii and followed him last year. We had a good feel for him before Josh was here just based on our scouting department and working him out and getting ready for the draft and all that. Of course Josh spent some time with him, so that was some additional input.’’
The Rams are starting over with newly hired coach Jeff Fisher. The Patriots are perennial Super Bowl contenders.
“It’s a big difference,’’ Salas said. “I’m just happy to be here and I know the expectations are to win every game and that’s what I’m here to help do. I talked to [the Patriots] before the draft, like I talked to every other team during the draft process. Not too much familiarity, just casual talking like with every other team.’’
For every new Patriot, especially receivers, getting the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with quarterback Tom Brady is a highlight.
“I’ve got a chance to meet him and he seems like a great guy,’’ Salas said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks ever, so it’s just an honor to play with him.’’
Salas said his leg is sound after an arduous offseason conditioning program.
“I’m sure every rehab is difficult, and I had to take my time to get ready again and work hard in the offseason to make sure I was able to play this season,’’ he said. “[Rookie season] was tough, but I’ve moved on from that now and now I’m just on to this season and to Tennessee this week.’’
Salas said he had a hint a deal could be coming in the final weeks of camp.
“I wasn’t sure there was a trade coming until after the initial 53-man roster [was set], and then my agent kind gave me a feeling for what was happening,’’ he said.
Part of a prolific offense at Hawaii, Salas caught 285 passes for 4,345 yards and 26 touchdowns in four years with the Rainbow Warriors, playing alongside Davone Bess, now the Dolphins’ No. 1 receiver. Salas was a fourth-round pick of the Rams, for whom he caught 27 passes for 264 yards before his injury Nov. 6 against the Cardinals.
Hawaii’s philosophy was similar to the Patriots’; the Warriors spread the ball to several receivers without a true deep threat. Playing in that system may help his adjustment to the New England offense.
“I think it helped in reading defenses and adjusting routes on the go,’’ Salas said. “But every offense is different from Hawaii’s offense.’’