FOXBORO — Demario “Pop” Douglas got his nickname from a late family member who passed away when he was young.
If all goes well for Douglas next week, the nickname will stick in New England for a different reason.
He’ll have “popped” in his NFL debut.
“I’m excited for my first regular-season game and to make a statement,” Douglas told the Herald in the locker room Thursday. “I’m blessed to have this opportunity,”
The statement, Douglas specified, is to prove he can play at the pro level. To show his sixth-round label doesn’t capture the player he is; a 5-foot-8, 192-pound dynamo who dazzled throughout training camp and, somehow, in just five preseason snaps.
“Really, I just want to go out there and play. I just want to have fun,” Douglas said. “I love this game.”
Over the past six weeks, Douglas has received daily feedback from veteran teammates who believe he can help the Patriots right away. The 22-year-old said he’s applied their tips and tricks and experienced immediate improvement. Two weeks into training camp, he surpassed 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton on the depth chart.
“I love all my (defensive backs) because they all come and help me in film (study) and they’ll show me something and be like, ‘You should’ve done this.’ And then I’ll do it the next practice, and I’ll be like, ‘Man, you’re right,’” Douglas said. “They’re really helpful.”
Pats linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley is among those who’s been impressed with Douglas. Bentley, who started as a fifth-round rookie in 2018, called him a “bright spot.” Douglas currently projects as the team’s No. 4 receiver, behind veterans JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne.
But considering how Mac Jones turned to Douglas for a third-down conversion in their only preseason game together, when offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien also called a screen for Douglas, more could be in store for the diminutive rookie.
“With each season that comes up, you always look to see what rookies are gonna jump out and exceed expectations. He’s definitely done that,” Bentley said. “He’s definitely caught a lot of guys’ eyes, and obviously catching the coaches’ eyes might be the main thing, but he’s caught a lot of players’ eyes.
“And that’s usually the toughest thing, is to get the respect of your teammates.”
The respect, it seems, is mutual.
“They critique everything. Every single thing. That’s what I salute them as teammates,” Douglas said. “We’re not against each other. We’re a team.”
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