In Bill O’Brien’s eyes, it will take more than one player to replace Kendrick Bourne’s production

Patriots

“The next guy has to step up and fill that role and it will probably be several guys. I don’t know who those guys will be right now.”

Kendrick Bourne. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
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Part of what will make Kendrick Bourne’s absence difficult for the Patriots is the energy and the “juice” that he brought to the offense, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said Tuesday.

Bourne was New England’s most consistent receiver this season, leading the team in targets, catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Through eight games, his numbers in those categories are comparable to — and in some cases better than — the ones he put up in 16 games last season.

On Sunday, an ACL tear brought Bourne’s season to an abrupt end. O’Brien said it will take more than one player to fill Bourne’s spot.

“I’ve only been around him for the seven or eight months I’ve been here,” O’Brien said. “He’s a great guy and he was having a really good year. The next guy has to step up and fill that role and it will probably be several guys. I don’t know who those guys will be right now.”

Demario Douglas, a 5-foot-8-inch 192-pound rookie, has been New England’s most productive receiver outside of Bourne. The speedy slot receiver posted career highs in catches (5) and targets (7) against Miami Sunday.

All of the Patriots’ receivers except Bourne and Douglas are averaging fewer than 30 yards per game.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had 933 yards last year as a member of the Chiefs, has struggled this season. His 26 targets have resulted in 15 catches for 89 yards and one touchdown. He began Sunday’s game on the bench after missing the previous two games with a concussion.

DeVante Parker, whose longest reception this season is 22 yards, left Sunday’s game with a head injury. Tyquan Thornton, who began the season on injured reserve, has two catches for eight yards since returning. Kayshon Boutte has not played since the opener against Philadelphia.

The Patriots signed Jalen Reagor, a former first-round pick by the Eagles whom Bill Belichick praised for his work on the practice squad, to the 53-man roster last week.

O’Brien said it’s an important week for the receivers as the Patriots try to determine who will get more snaps with Bourne out.

“It comes down to the practice field,” O’Brien said. “It really does, like, how do you practice? Are you ready to go by the time Saturday or Sunday rolls around? Then Bill will determine who is active for the game. That’s really how it is. And so, it’s a big week for the receivers.”

Inquiring mind

Against the Dolphins Sunday, defensive back Marte Mapu made his first appearance since Oct. 1. Mapu has eight tackles in four games, but safeties coach Brian Belichick said he’s pleased with what he’s been seeing from the rookie in terms of development.

“I think Te has done great as a young player and coming from a smaller school,” Belichick said. “He has an excellent mindset, similar to [Kyle Dugger] when he came in. You know, somewhat similar situation. They’re both very open-minded and eager to learn and smart and inquisitive about ways they can get better. They want to learn as much as they can and they’re both very versatile players.”

Belichick said Mapu has shown a pair of attributes that he likes to see in young players — versatility and the ability to understand the concepts the team uses.

“He’s doing that and learning well,” Belichick said. “He asks a lot of good questions and is building as a young player does. We want to keep that process going and every time he’s out there, I’m excited to see what he does.”

Spacing it out

O’Brien identified spacing between receivers as one of the issues that contributed to the offense’s struggles Sunday.

He pointed to the first third down of the game as an example. Mac Jones completed a 4-yard pass to Hunter Henry, but it was well short of the 12 they needed to gain a first down. O’Brien said he has to do a better job of coaching and designing the plays, and the players have to do a better job executing them.

“I take ownership of that; I’ve got to coach that better,” O’Brien said. “That was a third and 12 against Miami with a good pass rush and we weren’t spaced properly there, so we have to do a better job. 

“The players have to own their part of that. I have to own my part of that. We’ve got to get that stuff corrected, but yeah there were spacing issues and it has got to improve.”

The Patriots scored 17 points Sunday, which was slightly above their season average of 14.8. Still, it was a step back from their 29-point performance against Buffalo the week before. Little things such as spacing issues can add up quickly.

“I say this every week, but there’s such a small margin for error in the National Football League,” O’Brien said. “It comes down to five or six plays in each phase of the game. If you don’t make them, you’re not going to win, and we’re not making them right now. We have to get back to making them like we did against Buffalo.”


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