Sunday Notes: McDaniels, Patriots offense will make size matter in 2019

Sunday Notes: McDaniels, Patriots offense will make size matter in 2019

FOXBORO – When the Patriots traded for Josh Gordon last September, it was the 28th wide receiver transaction the team had made to that point.

In trying to overhaul a position that lost Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks, the team cycled through a parade of players – Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Devin Lucien, Corey Coleman – who didn’t work out for various reasons.

Gordon was anything but a sure bet, but the Patriots were desperate. Now, it can be easily argued that the Gordon bet didn’t pay off. He was gone from the team before the end of the regular season. Hence, fail.

But I’d contend it was a success on two fronts.

First, his production – 40 catches on 68 targets in 11 games – exceeded what I believed he’d give and helped the Patriots buy time as they figured out their 2018 offensive personality. He helped them win games.

Second, Gordon’s playing style opened a door in Tom Brady’s game that’s only been occasionally cracked open. It gave him a big, strong outside receiver who could defeat defensive backs with physicality. And even if Gordon wasn’t the perfect co-worker, Brady warmed to the option and went to Gordon. A lot. And the Patriots became more of a bully on offense.

And it’s clear they plan on continuing on that path.

On Friday, I asked offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels about first-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry. How he’s a unique addition to the offense, the way he foresees the offense utilizing him and the overall philosophy of being able to morph.

“I think the biggest thing we try to do with our team and our offense in particular is take guys who have a skill and a talent and don’t try to fit them to what we’ve done in the past,” said McDaniels. “If you try to do that, you tell me where the next Troy Brown is. Or the next Logan Mankins or the next Tom Brady. We’ll try to go get that guy. It’s not that easy.

“You have to have enough flexibility and versatility in your system that you can maybe feature the X-receiver. Or the Z-receiver. Or the tight end. Or two tight ends. Or the halfback. Whatever style you want to be, it should reflect the talent of your team. So that’s what we’re gonna do with (Harry) and see what happens. Now, he’s a rookie and he’s got a long way to go but in terms of him being different, he is. And we’ll try to see what he does well and see what can fit in his wheelhouse.”

“It’s always interesting when you add an element for players that maybe they necessarily haven’t done as much of something,” McDaniels said when asked about how the 42-year-old Brady might warm to a player with Harry’s obvious physical skills. “Years ago, we hadn’t been a big 12 (one back, two tight ends) personnel team and all of a sudden we did that. Back in 07, we went to 11 (one back, one tight end) personnel and spread the field. Years after that, we were more of a tempo team. It kind of moves and really reflects your team.”

What the drafting of the 6-foot-3 Harry and the signings of 6-foot-3 Demaryius Thomas, 6-foot-3 Maurice Harris and 6-foot-3 Dontrelle Inman indicates is that they want to be bigger at wideout than they were when it was Cooks, Amendola, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman at the receiver spots. If Gordon ever gets back from indefinite suspension, there’s another player that’s 6-3.

In replacing Rob Gronkowski, they have added 6-6, 260-pound Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, 6-foot-6, 245-pound Matt Lacosse and 6-3 Benjamin Watson who is as physically strong a tight end as there is in the league.

They run with a fullback, James Develin. They are now two-deep with between-the-tackles backs having spent a first-round pick on Sony Michel last year and a third-rounder on Damien Harris this year.

NFL defenses began embracing the use of five, six and seven DBs and defensive linemen who built for speed almost a decade ago. The Patriots’ dabbled in exploiting that trend for a while but the second half of last season seemed to be when they said, “Screw it, this is who we will primarily be.”

Up-tempo and empty will never go out of style for the Patriots offense, but now they are very well-equipped to be a grinding offense rather than a finesse one.

Who will they be week-to-week? As always, said McDaniels, whoever they need to be.

“You have to look at who you have and what they do well and then you gotta look at, ‘Alright, who are we playing and what are the best advantages we can gain this week?’ “ he explained. “You try to, as many times as you can in a game, you try to gain an advantage. Sometimes that’s with skill. Sometimes that’s with size, sometimes that’s with tempo, sometimes that’s with play-style or personnel groupings. But you just take as many good football players in a room and coach them as best you can.

“Right now, we’re not making any of those determinations,” McDaniels added. “Today and for the next couple months, we’re not doing any of that. Now it’s about foundation, evaluation, let them rep, see what happens. Is it good enough? Is it not? Do we keep doing it? I don’t think we really know the ansewers about what we’re gonna look like in September and October yet. That’s for another day down the road but that’s why this part of the year is fun.”


As we discussed the wide receiver personnel with McDaniels, he acknowledged that the Patriots are perceived to be a “small wideout” team.

“I know people make a big deal because we have had some players that are a little smaller be successful, whether it be Troy (Brown) or Wes (Welker) or Danny (Amendola),” said McDaniels. “I don’t really include Julian in that category but Julian’s not a big, big guy.”

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe raised an eyebrow on the exclusion of Edelman.

“He plays some of the some of the same position but I think in general terms that’s always been kind of a misconception,” McDaniels said of Edelman being perceived as a slot receiver. “Troy played inside the formation, Wes played inside the formation, Danny played inside the formation. Julian plays a lot outside the formation. Does Julian do some of those things inside the formation? Absolutely he does. But he does a lot more on the outside in the running game and passing game. It’s what he’s become. There’s a little bit of a difference based on the way we’ve used him than those other guys.”

The versatility Harry showed at ASU as a player who could perform inside the formation and win with size and vise-grip hands could give Edelman a chance to bounce outside more than he was able to in 2018. Again, that’s a developing situation but it seems that the Patriots would prefer Edelman not be consigned to the slot.

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NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.

What Jim Gray has learned from his weekly Tom Brady interviews

What Jim Gray has learned from his weekly Tom Brady interviews

For the last 10 years, Jim Gray has conducted weekly interviews with Tom Brady throughout the NFL season. Over that period of time, Gray has learned plenty about the longtime New England Patriots quarterback.

In a recent interview with the New York Post, Gray opened up about the admirable way Brady has approached each of his interviews on Westwood One Radio. It all started with a promise made by Brady 10 years ago that he's kept to this day.

"Meticulous, prepared, very responsive, on time, humble, he’s unbelievable really," Gray said. "He never says, “Don’t ask me anything.” If he doesn’t want to answer the question then that’s how he will respond to it, but there are no preconditions.

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"He wrote me a handwritten note 10 years ago now before we started this. It said, “I look forward to doing the show. You’ll get the same effort out of me on Monday nights that I give my teammates on Sunday afternoons.” And that has been the case, he’s never missed a show."

Although the Patriots' season ended weeks ago, Brady remains the center of attention in the NFL world. The 42-year-old is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time of his career on March 18.

Despite maintaining a close relationship with Brady over the years, Gray knows as much about the six-time Super Bowl champion's future as the rest of us. When Brady himself doesn't appear to know how his offseason will unfold, Gray says there's no reason to ask him about it.

"He doesn’t know," Gray said. "When he doesn’t know I am not sure how any of us can know. How many times can you ask the same question? As it evolves he will let us know. It’s not like he’s hiding something. I’ve asked him and he’s committed several times on the air to us that he’s playing next season. There’s not much he can be involved with outside the Patriots till March 18."

All signs point toward Brady returning for his 21st NFL season, so the weekly Westwood One interviews should continue. As for whether Brady will be a Patriot for his 11th year of interviews with Gray, that'll likely remain a mystery for the next couple of months.

Gray and Brady's final interview of the 2019-20 season will take place before Super Bowl 54 on Feb. 2.

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