Patriots need to find Demario Douglas more snaps coming off of injury

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FOXBORO — There’s one clear and obvious way the Patriots can potentially improve their league-worst offense: Get rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas on the field more.

Extenuating circumstances have kept Douglas from receiving a full slate of snaps six weeks into the season. He fumbled in Week 2 and was benched for the remainder of the Patriots’ Week 2 loss to the Dolphins. Then he was working his way back into earning trust in the offense before leaving the team’s Week 5 loss to the Saints early with a concussion. Douglas missed Week 6 but has returned to practice ahead of the team’s Week 7 matchup against the Bills.

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“I think he has a very important role,” Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne said this week. “Pop is great in man-to-man. You don’t really know the threat he brings I feel like for opposing defenses. He can do a lot of things that — I think people doubt him, being an underdog in a sense, small guy. He just needs to keep doing that, making those big plays. He’s very explosive. I think he can be great. He just has to keep working and doing it and want it every day. For all of us.”

Douglas has been praised for his ability to get open in man coverage. Head coach Bill Belichick was asked how he’s seen the 2023 sixth-round pick improve against zone.

“Yeah, Demario’s a smart player,” Belichick said Friday morning. “He’s not a huge target, but he’s fast, he’s quick, got good receiving skills. Yeah, he can get open.”

Douglas has 10 catches on 17 targets for 143 yards so far this season with 67 of his 81 snaps coming out of the slot. The Liberty product is probably the Patriots’ most effective weapon getting open against man coverage, but he’s also proven to be an effective deep target despite his 5-foot-8, 192-pound frame. Quarterback Mac Jones has completed 3-of-6 deep passes to Douglas for 89 yards and is 2-of-18 targeting his other pass catchers on passes of 20-plus yards.

Veteran wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the Patriots’ primary slot receiver this season but has struggled in five games, catching just 14 passes on 25 targets for 86 yards. He also missed Week 7 with a concussion.

With a 1-5 record and facing a juggernaut in the Bills this weekend, now would be a good time to see if a full share of snaps from Douglas could add a jolt to the offense.

Douglas ranks 17th among 95 qualified wide receivers with 2.27 yards per route run. Smith-Schuster is 77th at 0.89 yards per route run.

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