Before Demario Douglas was making plays on an NFL field for the New England Patriots, he was impressing the coaching staff off of it.
As the Patriots got the privilege of coaching Douglas during the East-West Shrine Bowl back in February, the 5-foot-8 receiver stood out without even stepping on the field.
“Having him in the meeting room, he just seemed like a kid that love football,” wide receivers coach Troy Brown told reporters. “Then he also had some quickness and was able to catch the ball and get open, so those are things that kind of caught my eye on tape.
“But, you know, I just like the kid. He was a good kid and he was interested, and he sat in the meetings, and he learned, and when he was able to get out there and go, he came out there and went and did pretty good.”
After standing out throughout the week in Las Vegas, Douglas later reaffirmed what the staff saw in him at the NFL Combine. So, when New England was on the clock with the 210th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the receiver was an easy choice.
“I was honestly kind of shocked he was still on the board,” fellow wide receivers coach Ross Douglas added. “But luckily he fell in our lap and he’s a New England Patriot and we still had the opportunity to continue to finish what we started at the Shrine game and continue to work with him.”
Coming from an FBS school, however, the coaching staff knew Douglas still had a long way to go. While there have been some expected rookie growing pains, the early returns have been promising as he continues to adjust to life in the NFL.
“He’s learned really well,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “A lot of rookie receivers struggle because its such a different game from college football — especially when you're coming from Liberty to the National Football League it’s a big jump. Pop has handled it well.”
“The little things do matter a ton,” Ross Douglas added. “And I think he’s learning that through experience because there’s a couple of plays, like I’ll pull out the Bradley Chubb example when he got punched out from behind. Like, you can make that cut maybe versus Akron University, but you might not be able to make that versus the Miami Dolphins cause you got a big werewolf coming to punch the ball out.
“So it’s just through experience and through repetition, he’s continuing to learn. So with reps, hopefully it continues to get better.”
After Douglas hit a speed bump early in the year with a lost fumble and a concussion he suffered three weeks later, he returned to the field in a big way against Buffalo.
The rookie had his coming out part of sort, showcasing his patented quickness and ability after the catch. In total, he tallied four more catches for 54 yards with three drawn penalties and a 20-yard run as well.
“I would say [Douglas’] confidence comes from a couple of things. I think it comes from preparation. I think it comes from repetition,” Ross Douglas said. “I also think it comes from a setback and I feel like up to this point in Pop’s career, he’s prepared since he was at Liberty [University].
“He prepared for the Shrine game — played well there. Did well at the combine, which led to us drafting him. He did well in the off-season program. So that preparation kinda helped him and through repetition, he was able to go to joint practices and perform well in joint practices, perform well in training camp.
“Then earlier in the season against Miami, when he got punched out from behind by Bradley Chubb, he had a setback. So I feel like all three of those things really combined together has bred his confidence and then he got concussed against New Orleans and then he came back and kinda picked up where he left off.”
Despite making impact plays at receiver for the Patriots, Douglas also continues to improve in the return game. After Marcus Jones suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 (which Troy Brown revealed will be season ending), Douglas has been New England’s primary punt returner.
The rookie admitted in training camp that he did not know how to read punts in the air until working with New England’s staff at the Shrine Bowl, but now has gotten more and more comfortable with added experience.
“He’s worked really, really hard at fielding the ball, which is usually the big issues most guys coming from college and into the league,” Brown added. “I don’t care what level they come from. That’s always the biggest issue is being able to feel the ball and feel it comfortably. So I think he’s worked his butt off and doing that and hopefully he continues to improve with those duties with Marcus being out for the year now.”
“Pop continues to get better. No different than any young guy going from catching a college punt and all the college roll out rugby punts balls on the ground.” special teams coordinator Cam Achord added. “Troy does a great job with those guys back there deep at practice and everything, coaching them and talking to him about, ‘Hey, the nose is up, the nose is down. How’s it gonna fall? Where’s the wind playing?’
“So, he’s continuing to learn. He gets out there early and tries to catch as many punts as he can. It’s a testament to him and his work ethic.”
Douglas received just one punt return opportunity against Buffalo on Sunday, but he certainly made it count. He made multiple people miss en route to a 25-yard return, in which New England needed just five plays to get into field goal range.
“Running with the ball, obviously he’s got good hands — he’s a receiver — and that’s the one thing you look for is like, can you catch the ball first? And I tell him all the time, you gotta have good setups, gotta get under the ball, field it, and then we can run, we can see how it explosive he is is once he gets the ball in his hands,” Achord said.
“But the most important thing on that unit is to make sure you have the ball at the end of the play and he’s continuing to get better. Hopefully he continues that upward track and continues to improve and hopefully we can continue to have a couple of big returns moving forward.”
After playing a career-high 37 offensive snaps in Week 7 and impacting the game in numerous ways, Douglas’ role should only continue to grow throughout his rookie season in New England.
“He fits in with what we’re trying to do, and hopefully that continues,” O’Brien added. “He’s a young player who’s learning everyday and he’s got a great attitude about it. He’s a great guy to coach. Just a really positive guy. He’s always in a good mood and he lifts our spirits around here a lot. Just a good guy.”