Patriots

What's Josh Gordon's impact on the Patriots receiver depth chart?

What's Josh Gordon's impact on the Patriots receiver depth chart?

With Josh Gordon back in the fold, one of the immediate questions that springs to mind -- from a pure football perspective -- is how does his return impact the receiver depth chart in Foxboro?

The assumption is that Gordon will be in shape when he returns to Patriots practices next week. The assumption is that he'll sit at or near the top of the depth chart, as he did last season, along with Julian Edelman. 

But what about everyone else? 

THE ROOKIES
It'll be fascinating to see how Gordon's return impacts the development of N'Keal Harry. It could go one of two ways, one would think. Either he has less on his plate, transitions more smoothly, and thrives on the outside opposite Gordon with Edelman roaming the middle of the field. What I think would be a less likely scenario is that he loses reps based on Gordon's presence, and the progress we've seen Harry make over the course of the summer is somewhat stalled. Harry is injured at the moment so whether Gordon is with the team or not, he'll need to get healthy and find his way back into receiving valuable practice snaps. 

Jakobi Meyers, meanwhile, may suddenly find himself getting less work with Tom Brady as the receiver depth chart all of a sudden has become more competitive. Meyers has been one of the stars of camp for the Patriots, and he's been their most consistent receiver. He's gained Brady's trust, it seems, thriving in game-like practice scenarios with his savvy route-running and sure hands. He may have just gone from a No. 3 or No. 4, though, to a No. 4 or No. 5. I still believe he's earned a spot on the 53-man roster. 

THE BUBBLE BOYS
Gordon's arrival could most significantly impact Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris and Braxton Berrios. Injuries notwithstanding -- and Dorsett and Harris are both currently dealing with ailments -- there may have been room for two of those three wideouts. Now there may be room for only one. 

Would the team go with Harris, who was an early standout in camp and has shown he has a grasp of the Patriots offense after only arriving a few months ago? Would they go with Dorsett, who has come through for Brady in clutch situations in the past despite having a relatively niche role in the offense? Or would they go with Berrios, whose skill set sets him apart from the other two? 

Berrios is an interesting study in that he's a true slot. Not like Harris or Dorsett, and certainly unlike Gordon. His presence inside (and as a punt returner) might save Julian Edelman from punishment in the middle of the field. Would the Patriots part ways with someone in that role in order to make room for another outside option? 

After pursuing the likes of Adam Humphries and Cole Beasley this offseason, I think the Patriots might opt to keep Berrios if he continues to progress in camp. The other two seem less safe now with Gordon's reinstatement.

THE UPHILL CLIMBERS
Others whose odds at a roster spot seem significantly diminished now with Gordon's return include veteran Dontrelle Inman, despite some nice moments against the Lions in preseason game No. 1 and a solid week of practice in Tennessee this week. 

Damoun Patterson (practice-squadder in 2018), Gunner Olszewski (corner-turned-receiver who has impressed at times and received all kinds of work in the return game) and Ryan Davis (Jarrett Stidham's teammate at Auburn who looks like a classic slot) were always longshots to make the roster but could end up as solid practice-squad additions should they clear waivers before the start of the regular season. 

Demaryius Thomas and Cam Meredith remain on the physically unable to perform list and could come off at any time, but with Gordon now an option, there is no pressure on either to come back and try to chip in for a receiving corps before they're fully ready to go. 

Here's how I see the Patriots depth chart shaking out at receiver at this point. If I had to pick a 53-man roster, it'd include Edelman, Gordon, Harry, Meyers and Berrios as well as special teams ace Matthew Slater . . . 

Julian Edelman (NFI)
Josh Gordon
N'Keal Harry
Jakobi Meyers
Braxton Berrios
Phillip Dorsett
Maurice Harris
Demaryius Thomas (PUP)
Cam Meredith (PUP)
Dontrelle Inman
Damoun Patterson
Gunner Olszewski
Ryan Davis
Matthew Slater (special-teams)

 

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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.