What Eric Decker had to say about joining the Patriots

"This is the place, really all offseason, I’d have loved to end up."

FOXBOROUGH — Newly minted Patriots wide receiver Eric Decker is intimately familiar with the ways of his latest offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. In the 2010 NFL Draft, Decker was selected 87th overall by McDaniels himself, then the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

In his new summer quarters on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Tuesday, Decker called McDaniels the smartest coach he’s ever played for.

“Josh drafted me in Denver, gave me an opportunity,” Decker recalled. “Probably the smartest football coach I’ve had in my career. Guy knows his X’s and O’s. He’s good with relationships, good getting things going offensively, so it’s good being back with him.”

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McDaniels was fired in Denver after Decker’s first season as a pro, but the two have a chance to make magic once again after the Patriots signed Decker to a one-year deal last Thursday.

The 31-year-old graduate of Minnesota has long appreciated New England’s culture from afar. Now, he finds himself in the thick of things with the team’s first preseason contest against Washington coming up Thursday.

“They do it the right way,” said Decker of his new club. “There’s no question why they consistently win, why they’re consistently on top. Just the way they work, every detail, everybody throughout the building does their job the best. It’s quite fascinating to be a part of.”

Decker spent the early years of his career as a spoiled pass catcher, snaring bullets from Peyton Manning. He missed just two games during his four-year tenure as a Bronco, catching 85-plus passes and eclipsing 10 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons once Manning arrived in 2012.

In 2014, Decker matriculated east to join the New York Jets. Though his AFC East numbers weren’t as meaty as those in Denver, Decker managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the third time in 2015.

Decker’s ensuing campaign — his last with the Jets — was hindered by hip surgery.

The injury — and a new home in Tennessee to begin 2017 — prompted a shift in Decker’s role. A stocky 6 feet 3 inches, Decker transitioned to the slot after having spent the majority of his career out wide. He didn’t enjoy much of a grace period, struggling to gain traction. Decker averaged a career-low 10.4 yards per reception with the Titans and scored just once on 54 receptions.

Yearning for the days when he caught passes from Manning and ran routes designed by McDaniels, Decker turned his gaze to New England in the offseason, hoping to garner interest from a team he knew was all about winning.

“This is the place, really all offseason, I’d have loved to end up,” said Decker.

Decker’s wishes were granted at an opportune time for a New England receiving corps whose depth is being tested.

Julian Edelman will miss the first four games serving a PED suspension. Kenny Britt returned to practice from a hamstring injury Friday, but didn’t dress Tuesday. Malcolm Mitchell was released on Monday and Jordan Matthews now sits on the injured reserve list.

Matthews’s hamstring injury may have prompted the Decker signing. Both are oversized targets capable of manning the slot, an integral part of every McDaniels scheme.

Learning a new playbook with August already underway is daunting. But Decker’s trepidation is lessened by the knowledge he obtained in his brief stint spent playing for McDaniels.

“Biggest thing is getting the playbook, studying,” said Decker. “There are obviously things that change over time, but there’s some carryover that I was able to take and quickly learn. There’s a lot of new stuff, too, that I have to catch up on.”

Serving both Manning and Tom Brady in the span of a single career is a select privilege. Few have been lucky enough to learn and catch passes from the pair of future Hall of Famers.

There’s an aura with which the greats stride across a football field. Decker saw it in Manning, and he sees it in Brady.

“Just the habits,” Decker said when asked what had impressed him most about Manning. “How he came to work, how he took care of himself physically, the way he watched tape, the way he practiced, the extra work that he put in, those things translate Sunday.

“I believe Tom’s the same way. Commands in the huddle, pushes people, keeps you accountable — things that you want in a leader. It’s been fun to be his teammate the last few days and learn how he carries himself as a pro.”

Decker is still getting acclimated to his surroundings. He doesn’t know all the ins and outs of the Gillette Stadium grounds, and is doing his best to learn the names of teammates and staff.

Coach Bill Belichick doesn’t doubt Decker’s acumen. However, his status as an NFL veteran entering his ninth season doesn’t hold the clout it might elsewhere.

The message from up top is clear as a crystal: Produce as you once did, and you’ll carve out a role here.

“He’s a smart guy,” said Belichick. “A very experienced player. He’s got good size, had good production in the league. We’ll see how it goes.”