Patriots

Josh McDaniels details how he wants to help Patriots' N'Keal Harry be more impactful

Josh McDaniels details how he wants to help Patriots' N'Keal Harry be more impactful

Rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry, in four games with the New England Patriots, has shown flashes of the impressive talent that made the team select him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He just hasn't been able to show his skills on a consistent basis throughout these individual games.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, speaking on a media conference call Tuesday, talked about how he plans to put Harry in positions where he can use this athleticism and size to help the Patriots offense improve.

"We know he's big and not easy tackle," McDaniels said. "I need to do a better job of finding ways to get him in space, get him the ball, and let him have an opportunity to (make plays)."

One example of getting Harry into space came on perhaps the most controversial play of the Patriots' 23-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed a pass to Harry behind the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots wideout evaded a few defenders before diving toward the pylon. Harry was ruled out at the 3-yard line, even though replays showed he never stepped out of bounds. The Patriots couldn't challenge the play because they had no challenges remaining. They eventually settled for a field goal on that drive.

Despite the unfortunate ending to the play, it was a good example of what Harry can do when he has the ball in his hands in the open field.

"He made a great individual effort," McDaniels said of Harry's near-touchdown. "Broke a tackle, had good balance there to finish the play and give us an opportunity to score. He's a big guy. He's not easy to get to the ground."

It's easy to see why the Patriots are hesitant to make Harry one of the focal points of the offensive attack. He's still learning the offense. He has only four games of experience, and he doesn't have much of a rapport with Brady because of his lack of experience. However, it's not like the Patriots have a ton of other options right now. Veteran wideouts Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett have failed to make an impact in recent weeks. In fairness, injuries have impacted both players, but these veterans need to play at a much higher level if they're healthy enough to be on the field.

Several others contending teams have incorporated rookie wide receivers into their offense with plenty of success this season. Some of the best examples are Deebo Samuel with the San Francisco 49ers, D.K. Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans. 

The Patriots would be wise to use Harry more often, and Sunday's game against a last-place Cincinnati Bengals team is a great opportunity to give him a bunch of snaps.

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Patriots' Stephon Gilmore reflects on Defensive Player of the Year candidacy

Patriots' Stephon Gilmore reflects on Defensive Player of the Year candidacy

Stephon Gilmore has a strong chance to accomplish something only five cornerbacks have done before in NFL history: win a Defensive Player of the Year award.

The New England Patriots' lockdown CB is considered a favorite to become the first player at his position to take home the award since Charles Woodson did so in 2009. Gilmore would become the first Patriots player ever to win the award.

In Orlando, Fla. for the Pro Bowl, Gilmore took some time to reflect on his candidacy.

“It’s pretty cool. That’s a big award,” Gilmore told Jeff Howe of The Athletic. “The award speaks for itself, a lot of hard work, a lot of good teammates that put me in that position, a lot of preparation from myself. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates to even be in this position. I feel like I had a good year. Hopefully, I’ll win it.”

Gilmore tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with six and also topped the league in pass breakups (20). The 29-year-old was named Defensive Player of the Year by his NFL peers and also by the Pro Football Writers of America.

“Toward the end [of the season], people started saying it,” Gilmore said. “I didn’t really think about it because it’d be a big award to win. I think it’d be the first Patriot to win Defensive Player of the Year. I mean, that’s insane. Hopefully, I’ll win it.”

NFL Honors will be announced Feb. 1 on FOX starting at 8 p.m.

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Picturing how Tom Brady would fit in another NFL offense

Picturing how Tom Brady would fit in another NFL offense

If Tom Brady leaves the New England Patriots, I think his new team's head coach, general manager and offensive coordinator would all understand they would have to make concessions.

They want him to feel comfortable. They want him to feel like he has ownership in the offensive scheme.

There would be some give-and-take. They know they'll only have so many more years with Brady, so why not try to maximize that potential? You don't do that by starting from scratch or making him learn a brand new system.

He’s had a lot of success in that system in New England, and there are a lot of positives for him being able to grow that offense the way he wants to see it.

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The closest example for Brady joining another team would be when Peyton Manning went to Denver. 

The Broncos allowed Peyton to put his touch on the offense and run a little bit more of what he was comfortable with. I believe any team bringing Brady in would also make those same concessions and say, “We want you to feel comfortable. We also want you to run an offense that you feel like you can have some success in.”

The offseason would be pivotal.

Brady would have to get in the building as soon as possible and have those conversations to understand what the offensive philosophy of that coordinator is, what kind of weapons they have and how to utilize those weapons.

For example: How do they run their checks on offense? Do they get out of certain plays or looks? Brady has been calling out protection schemes for the last 20 years; you always see him point to a linebacker and call out a certain protection. But some teams have the offensive line do that.

There’s a multitude of schematic factors that would go into Brady getting comfortable with a new team.

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But the biggest factor is terminology.

I had 12 offensive coordinators in 14 years, and everybody is a little different. When you are accustomed to the same word for a route concept for so many years, and then all of a sudden it’s a different word but the same route concept, it takes a second to process that in your brain.

When I had to learn a new offensive system, I would make flash cards, write down plays and watch film like I was cramming for a test. And that was before I even got onto the field.

Brady has never been a part of a different system. There has been nothing brand new that needs to be learned in the offseason; it's just building on what you did the year before.

That's going to be a factor for any team that brings Brady in: How much is their offensive terminology related to New England's? And how much leeway do they have to change what's already in place?

Because if you completely change what you did from the year before, it sets everybody back. The receivers, the offensive line, the running backs -- it’d be a learning curve for everybody.

If Brady leaves New England, I believe his best bet to be successful would be joining a team with similar offensive terminology.

He could be willing to go in there and start all over. He's a smart guy, so he could put it all on himself and say, “We’ll make some subtle adjustments, but I’ll learn your offensive scheme."

But that's asking a lot from a guy who’s been in the same system for 20 years.

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.