Patriots

Bill Belichick blunt on Patriots receivers: Can't 'wave a wand' to make up for lost time

Bill Belichick blunt on Patriots receivers: Can't 'wave a wand' to make up for lost time

Bill Belichick was very open about it earlier this week when he relayed the issue with his receiver group going into Week 1 of the regular season.

"The whole receiver situation has been challenging all through camp with the limited availability of certain players," Belichick said. "I'd say most of the players have been limited at one point or another. So we just have to use the information we have and do the best we can with it. We'll have to see how it goes."

Building the roster at that position wasn't easy. Belichick ended up with six receivers. One of whom was told he would be released and then was brought back. Another was released and brought back. One was placed on injured reserve.

Now attacking a game plan will be a whole separate challenge in its own right. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon were removed off of the non-football injury list in late August. Demaryius Thomas came off of PUP around the same time. Those could end up being the team's top three options at receiver when the Steelers visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

The team also has Phillip Dorsett ready to go as well as two undrafted rookies in Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Meyers didn't see real practice time with Tom Brady, though, until he'd established himself as one of the most impressive receivers through the early days of camp. Olszewski saw his first regular work with Brady only after the injury bug had wiped out a significant percentage of those at his position during joint practices with the Titans.

Add it all up and outside of Dorsett, there aren't many wideouts on the roster who've been in the huddle with Brady consistently throughout the course of the summer. Though Brady has built-in experience with players like Edelman and (to a much lesser extent) Gordon, there's going to have to be a period of time during the regular season in which he and his wideouts start to build some trust with one another.

Brady acknowledged that fact on Tuesday morning. Belichick did the same soon thereafter, indicating there's not much he and his staff can do to expedite the confidence-building process between his quarterback and receivers.

"I wish there was," Belichick explained. "I wish we could just wave a wand and all that would happen. But unfortunately I don't really see how that would happen.

"We'll have to do whatever [guys] that have been here for a number of weeks have been doing. Go out here, get the reps together, get our timing, develop that consistency and continuity and confidence on the field.

"I don't know how you can... I don't know how to create that by just wishing it or talking about it. At some point you gotta go out there and be able to execute it. We've done some of it. We'll do more and we'll continue to do more and we'll see where we're at."

One would expect that for a player like Gordon — who adapted relatively quickly to what the Patriots did offensively and had nine catches in his first three games with the team last season — that his physical skill set is such that missed practice time might impact him less than others. They could keep it simple with go routes, slants and deep overs, and he'd still be a factor even if the defense had a good idea of what was coming. He averaged 18.0 yards per catch with the Patriots last season running those types of patterns.

Perhaps the same will be true for Thomas. Perhaps the same will be true for Meyers, who showed throughout training camp that he can be a contested-catch threat as well as a nifty route runner who uses subtle moves at the line of scrimmage and at the tops of his routes to create separation.

But there are no easy calls for Brady or Josh McDaniels that will hasten the painstaking process of building trust between the guy throwing the ball and the guys catching it.

"Timing and anticipation," McDaniels began when he listed the critical factors to a successful passing game Tuesday. "Trust. Execution. Discipline. There's a lot that goes into all of those things. It doesn't really matter what the route it. All of those things are in play. We're continuing to work with guys that have come off of different [injury] lists and those types of things. But again, there's not excuses for that. It's our job to find what we do well now. It's also our job to improve upon that group of things as we move forward."

The Patriots know what they do well with Edelman. They know what Dorsett can handle. Even with Gordon, last year they discovered pretty quickly that they could be successful when they found ways to exploit his power at the catch point in one-on-one matchups with back-shoulder throws and slants. They also allowed him to make the most of his run-after-catch ability at times with shorter quick-hitting passes near the line of scrimmage.

Maybe that understanding of what that trio can execute will be enough against the Steelers. It might have to be. Ryan Izzo is now the one running out of the tight end spot, not Rob Gronkowski. And even though Patriots running backs are expected to be a significant part of the passing game, the Steelers match up well thanks to one of the most athletic linebacker corps in the NFL with Mark Barron and first-round pick Devin Bush roaming at the second level.

This receiver group hasn't done much at all over the course of the last month. Some are still waiting for their first competitive snaps of the year with Brady against another team. But the pressure will be on Sunday for them to perform, despite having maybe a fraction of the timing and anticipation that Brady so craves.

"We have a really, really tough task in the Pittsburgh defense ahead of us," McDaniels said. "We have things that we have confidence in. Those are the things we're gonna do. We're gonna continue to work throughout the course of the season to build on those things and expand on them in whatever ways we feel is best for the team. That's no different than any other team. Every other team is dealing with injuries, guys coming off PUP, etc., who might not have as many reps, timing, days of practice etc. That's just the National Football League."

Olszewski, Meyers continue 16-year run for Pats UDFAs>>>>>

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How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

Remember when Cam Newton jokingly compared the Patriots' playbook to "calculus" after signing with New England last month?

Turns out that wasn't his own assessment. (Not yet, anyway.)

Rather, it was Julian Edelman who made Newton aware of what he was dealing when the quarterback called his new Patriots wide receiver for the first time.

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"We were both excited just to be on the phone with each other," Newton told reporters Friday in a video conference. "Then all of a sudden he just said, 'Hey bro, this (explicit) is calculus.'

"He said it and it was just funny. From that whole 15-minute conversation, that's the only thing that I just remembered: Calculus."

The Patriots playbook that Tom Brady spent 20 years mastering is notoriously complex and has stumped talented veterans like Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne. Edelman has dealt with that playbook for a whole decade, so it's no wonder his comparison stuck with Newton.

Not that the 31-year-old QB is intimidated by learning a challenging offense after nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it than what it already is,” Newton said of the playbook. "(Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) has been there every step of the way as well as (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch). Just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system from what it is."

Newton admittedly faces a tall task picking up the Patriots' offense in short order without the benefit of the on-field workouts of a traditional training camp.

The three-time Pro Bowler has his means of getting up to speed, though: Newton is a "visual learner" who famously relied on a large three-ring binder in Carolina stuffed with notes on the Panthers' offense.

"We all have our different methods of how we (learn) and go about different ways to retain as much information as possible,” Newton said. "I don’t think the binder is actually here, but some type of retention methods have adapted towards New England."

Newton has a few more weeks to study, but his first test -- the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 -- is rapidly approaching.

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For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

Josh McDaniels wouldn’t trade his time with Tom Brady for anything.

But the Patriots offensive coordinator did point out Friday that those times Brady wasn’t at his disposal are very valuable right now as the Patriots offense does its post-Brady pivot.

“I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had when I didn’t have Tom,” McDaniels said on a video conference call. “Believe me, no one was happier to have him out there when he was out there for all the years I was fortunate to coach him.

"But I would say I did have some experience with the Matt Cassel year (in 2008), which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else’s strengths, we had to play that four-game stretch (in 2016) with Jacoby (Brissett) and Jimmy (Garoppolo), I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years. So trying to really adapt … it’s not changing your system, it’s adapting your system to the talents and strengths of your players.”

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How will the Patriots offense change now that Brady’s gone has been a dominant topic of discussion this offseason. The six-time Super Bowl winners' strengths are well-documented and hard to replicate – absurd accuracy, poise, pocket-presence and the ability to decipher and manipulate defenses at will. Part of the reason they’re hard to replicate is that it took him a dozen years of monkish devotion to get where he was. Nobody’s got time for that.

So, after a couple of decades building a tower out of wooden blocks, the blocks are knocked down and scattered. And McDaniels starts building again. Same blocks. Different-looking structure.  

“(We need to) adapt (the offense) to the players that we have,” said McDaniels. “So, again, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘Do I really want us to be good at this? Or are we good at this?’ There’s a fine line between really pushing hard to keep working at something that you’re just not showing much progress in vs. ‘Hey, you know what, we’re a lot better at A, B and C then we are D, E and F, why don’t we just do more A, B and C?” I think as a staff we’ve really had a lot of conversations about those kinds of things.”

McDaniels has discussed in past seasons how developing an offense is a trial-and-error process. The difference this year is there is no chance for the “trial” portion. No joint practices. No preseason games. Obviously, no OTAs or minicamps.

“We can’t make any declarations about what we’re good at yet because we haven’t practiced,” McDaniels acknowledged. “I think everybody’s chomping at the bit, eager to get out there and start to make a few decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at, and if we’re just not making a lot of progress then we just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.

“But I’m going to lean on my experience and then I’m going to lean on the staff, coach Belichick, just to, (say), ‘Let’s be real with ourselves. Yeah, we used to be good at that. We’re not doing so hot at it so let’s just scrap it for now and move in a different direction.”

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Obviously, a direction they’ll move in will most likely be powered by the mobility of whoever the starting quarterback is, Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton.

McDaniels pointed out that a player with the size, power and mobility of Newton does change things.

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal but you use whatever the strengths of your players that are on the field allow you to use, to try to move the ball and score points,” he said. “So whatever that means relative to mobility at the QB position, size and power, quickness, length, height with receivers … you go through the same thing many different times.”

Newton, said McDaniels, is the same as any other player who brings a unique talent.  

“I remember when you get a new receiver group … our receivers have changed quite a bit in terms of some of them were bigger … Randy Moss was a bigger guy and then we’ve had some smaller guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and then you have tight ends that are more fast straight-line players and then you have guys like Gronk and those kinds of players,” he pointed out.

“Regardless of what the position is, I think you try to use their strengths to allow them to make good plays and if that’s something we can figure out how to do well and get comfortable doing and feel like we can move the ball and be productive then we’re going to work as a staff to figure out how that works best, and try to utilize it if we can.”

In other words, when you have a player with a superpower - Moss' speed, Welker's quickness, Gronk's size, Brady's brain, Newton's power - , you tap into said superpower. ASAFP.