FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – P.K. Sam was the youngest player drafted in the NFL last year and seemed to act like it.

The New England Patriots wide receiver played in just two of the first five games before being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. While on that list, the team suspended him for undisclosed reasons.

But now he’s 22 and, after an offseason of maturation and an improved work ethic, has impressed coach Bill Belichick.

“P.K. Sam had a really good offseason,” Belichick said Monday. “I think that he accomplished a lot and put himself in a much more competitive position than he was in last year due to his work and his effort both on the field and in the classroom and in the weight room.”

There is plenty of competition at wide receiver with Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown, David Terrell and others. At least Sam, who played three seasons at Florida State, is in that group.

“It’s a lot of stuff that happened that I don’t talk about,” he said. “It’s behind me now, but everything’s cool. I’m mature and I’m just ready for this year.”

He said Branch, the MVP of the Patriots third Super Bowl win in four seasons this year, helped him act more professionally.

“I’ve been hanging with Deion and he’s helped me out a lot,” Sam said. “I did have some maturing to do and I think I did a lot over the last year, over the offseason.”

Sam was taken in the fifth round after catching 76 passes in 35 games, 13 as a starter, in college. The Patriots liked his size – 6-foot-3, 210 pounds – and he’s not their only 2004 draftee who has made considerable progress since their rookie seasons.

First-round pick Benjamin Watson, a tight end, joined training camp last year after an 18-day holdout and played in one game before going on injured reserve. Defensive end Marquise Hill, a second-round pick, played in just one game; third-rounder Guss Scott, a safety, spent the season on injured reserve, and fourth-rounder Cedric Cobbs, a running back, appeared in four games.

“I think all of those guys have worked hard,” Belichick said. “I would say that every one of them has had a good offseason, good to very good offseason, and that they are way ahead of where they were last year and that they should perform a lot better.”

Sam didn’t give himself – or receive – much of a chance to contribute last year.

He saw his first action in the third game of the season at Buffalo. He figures he was in for about three or four plays.

“It was a start,” Belichick said after the game. “I am sure it will be better. Well, I am not sure. I hope he will be better as he continues to gain experience.”

In the offseason, Sam worked hard enough to make a positive impression on his demanding coach.

“Obviously, I had to work 10 times harder, I think, than anybody else just because (of) how everything went down last year with the suspension,” he said. “So not only physically did I have to work, but just changing my image and just acting like the person I’m supposed to be, so I worked hard on and off the field.”

There’s no guarantee Sam will make the team. But at least he’s giving himself a legitimate chance and has a year of experience in learning the offense.

He said it wouldn’t be hard to gain his teammates’ trust because he’s worked hard. He also has talked with Belichick and Scott Pioli, vice president for player personnel.

“So everything’s cool,” Sam said. “It’s time for me to just go to work and try to get a spot.”

AP-ES-08-01-05 2016EDT


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