N'Keal Harry obviously has a skill set and can play. There’s no doubt about that.
But if you don't get any reps and just show up on game day and say "I’m ready to play," it’s hard for Tom Brady to know what you do well.
There's body lean: When he has leverage on somebody, how does he like to come out of his breaks?
Then there's the timing patterns and understanding body language: When he’s putting that foot in the ground and coming out of it, how are you throwing that?
Some of it is timing, other things are depth recognition, and then it's reading a wide receiver's body language and understanding what he does best.
You can watch as much film as you want in college, but it’s a different scheme. To actually do it on the field, do it in practice and get better at it: that gives everybody confidence.
Every rookie wide receiver is challenged mentally and physically. A lot of them are more role players in their first year and kind of ease into it.
And the main reason is, when you’re not completely confident in what you’re going to do, then you play slow. You don’t play to your actual speed and what your abilities should be. You’re thinking too much on those plays rather than just going out and letting your skill set take over.
That’s the beauty of the New England offense: They are going to say, “What are this kid’s strengths? ... Which routes does he run really well, and how can we get the most out of this guy?"
That's why the biggest thing with N'Keal is his knowledge of the playbook and understanding what they’re asking him to do.
Josh McDaniels is one of the best – if not the best – offensive coordinators in the league. And he’s going to put that kid in the best position to be successful when he does step on the field.
They’re not going to do things that he’s not good at. That’s the beauty of the New England offense: They are going to say, “What are this kid’s strengths? How can he help us this week? Which routes does he run really well, and how can we get the most out of this guy?"
And they’re going to utilize him in that role, whether it’s inside or outside, double moves or comeback routes – whatever he does well, they’re going to emphasize those routes and put him in a position to be successful.
For example: if N’Keal plays this week and you put him in the slot, that might be a great opportunity to throw the inside fade route against a smaller nickel back in the red zone, because he's a bigger guy and can go up and get the ball.
Tom also takes an unbelievably detailed approach with his wide receivers.
Throughout my entire time in New England, he would bring in just the receivers on the Saturday before a game, and he would have specific notes for each individual player.
He would highlight certain routes and say things like, "Hey, remind yourself to get your depth on this, because it’s a longer-developing play.”
He knew where his receivers were going to be on each specific play and laid out exactly the types of things he wanted to see.
That's why N'Keal will need to grasp the "why" of this offense and understand the route concepts he'll have to know and be accountable for.
There are a lot of nuances within this offensive scheme you have to be on top of to earn the trust of your quarterback and your teammates. There are a lot of motions, double cadences and different formations they use try to take advantage of the defense.
In the end, it comes down to each individual player: How much can you put on this guy before he overloads?
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.
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