Josh McDaniels

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


Patriots Talk Podcast: So with McDaniels back, does Brady follow?

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Patriots Talk Podcast: So with McDaniels back, does Brady follow?

Does Josh McDaniels' return to the Patriots bode well for Tom Brady's return, too?

It's one of the pressing Pats issues covered in the new episode of Tom Curran's Patriots Podcast, where Curran and Phil Perry discuss New England's offensive coordinator missing out on the Cleveland Browns head coaching job and sticking around Foxboro for at least another season.

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So, what does that mean for Brady? 

"I think it's better for the Patriots to have Tom Brady surrounded by a better offensive line and better weapons in 2020 than any other scenario," Perry said, while noting, "How realistic is that, Tom?"

Curran is quick to point out that paying Brady may be costly in other areas.  

"Do you have enough to replace your best offensive lineman in Joe Tuney, who's going to be a free agent and probably the second-highest-paid guard in the league when it's said and done," said Curran. "Or to go and get a tight end in free agency?"

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McDaniels' return is just one piece of the retaining-Brady puzzle.

"Brady would prefer to return to the Patriots IF a million things break the way he wants them to," Curran said.

Such as...

"IF the surrounding cast is better.

"IF there are tight ends to throw to.

IIF he has a little more say in some of the game-planning and weekly structure that he's had in the past..."

Also in the continuing Brady saga, Curran shoots down the report that Brady has moved to Connecticut and talks about the possibility of Bill Belichick leaving the Patriots, among other topics, in this latest edition of the podcast. 


Why Josh McDaniels is back and what it means for the Patriots

Why Josh McDaniels is back and what it means for the Patriots

Josh McDaniels is “content” with how things went in Cleveland, a source tells me.

Though disappointed that he didn't get to interview for the Giants and Panthers before those openings were filled earlier in the week, McDaniels was not going to leap to the Browns before he looked long and hard at the setup. And when he did look, his vision didn’t mesh with Cleveland’s.

As we reported last week, McDaniels went into Cleveland with eyes wide open. It was important to him that the Browns express an understanding of why they’d been unsuccessful under owner Jimmy Haslam and that they were willing to yield to some new ideas.

That didn’t happen.

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Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository reported in a column published Sunday that McDaniels went in with definitive plans for remaking the Browns.

Would the Browns show a willingness to applaud his detailed presentation on the sweeping makeover that would be needed for him to want the job? This is where the trouble with his candidacy came to a head.

The Browns were as detailed with him as to the parts of their system they wanted to keep, or expand, as he was with them as to necessary changes.

In the end, both came to a similar conclusion: It wasn’t a great fit.

The Browns want to hang on to some of the ideas they still think can work. McDaniels had quite different ideas.

Kevin Stefanski, the 37-year-old offensive coordinator for the Vikings, got the job. He was more amenable, Doerschuk wrote, to the Browns' requests, especially the weighty role of Paul DePodesta, Chief Strategy Officer, according to Doerschuk.

(Stefanski) made it clear he was willing to yield to certain DePodesta standards, such as an analytics person with a headset and access to the coaching staff on game days, in addition to certain Haslam likes, such as hours-long, Monday-after, owner-coach meetings.

Stefanski interviewed with the Browns last year. McDaniels didn’t. That, reportedly, gave him a leg up in that the Browns were comfortable with him. Also, this is Stefanski’s first head coaching gig.

He has more willingness to eat a poop sandwich with no bread than McDaniels does at this point. And giving free rein to DePodesta and owner Jimmy Haslam to add a dash of this or a splash of that at the end of the week is precisely that. Some people can’t help themselves.

Browns fans are pissed. They wanted McDaniels. And he wanted the chance to go back to Ohio, stand on the Browns sideline and guide a franchise he grew up following.

But the gap between how the two sides saw it coming together made it easier to walk away.

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Indications McDaniels wasn’t getting the job began coming Friday night when two of the assistants he was targeting for his coordinator positions — Brandon Staley and Kevin O’Connell — were reported to be closing in on positions with the Broncos and Rams respectively.

Once the Vikings played — and lost — the Browns were clear to go get their guy.

McDaniels' consolation prize, of course, ain’t bad. He comes back to the Patriots where he’s the NFL’s most highly-paid assistant coach. He continues his role working for an organization where he’s been a part of six Super Bowls and ridden in the front seat between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on the road to six Super Bowls.

But it’s even better for New England because McDaniels means stability. With Joe Judge — who was moonlighting as wide receivers coach along with his special teams duties in 2019 — leaving for the Giants, there’s an opening with the Patriots raw wideouts, a group in desperate need of improvement.

Adding a vacancy at coordinator/quarterbacks coach (a duty McDaniels also handles) would have been an issue. And it’s not like Bill Belichick could just leap to do that. He was largely the defensive coordinator in 2019 after Brian Flores went to Miami and Greg Schiano backed out of the DC job.

The offense was McDaniels’ job more than ever last year. Belichick’s role in weekly offensive preparation was diminished in 2019 because of his defensive responsibilities. Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio assumed some of those. Otherwise, it was McDaniels’ show.

If McDaniels left AND Brady had gone, that meant a full-on offensive rebuild.

Which brings us to whether or not McDaniels’ return makes it more or less likely Brady returns. It really doesn’t.

McDaniels has been here the past eight seasons. The contractual stalemate and the team’s preference to go “year-to-year” with Brady were not McDaniels’ decisions. The personnel decisions/misses that left the team scrambling for wideouts the past two years and without a tight end of note in 2019 were not McDaniels’ decisions.

Meanwhile, we’ve gotten indications over the past six months that Brady’s input — which has never been comparable to other elite quarterbacks around the league — is even less sought now. Publicly, he’s made a number of “Don’t ask me, I just work here”-type comments.

A sampling of quotes:

“The reality is I don't make any personnel decisions. I don't decide to sign players, I don't decide to trade them, I don't decide to release them, I don't decide to draft them. I don't get asked. I show up and I do my job. I'm an employee like everyone else.”

“The best teammates are the ones I have to think about the least. I don't want to expend my mental energy on things that aren't really my job.”

“I just expect to play (in preseason games), and if he (Bill Belichick) says, 'You're not playing,' then I'm not playing. I think there's a lot of things that factor into his decisions, but I'm not involved in any of those, so I just show up and practice. That's been my role, that's been my job, so I'm trying to show up and do a good job.”

“One thing we talk about here is just doing our jobs. I mean, I can do what I can do. Every player can do what they can do. I can’t do anything for anyone else; they can’t do anything for me. So a lot of it is just trust and trying to communicate trust and communication.”

Brady and McDaniels have had a long, successful and respectful partnership. There’s a bond and affection between the two that’s indelible. The same bond between Brady and Belichick exists.

But for Brady, just “running it back” in 2020 with or without verbal assurances it’s going to be vastly different in a number of ways this year may not be that compelling for him.

And for the Patriots, re-signing a 43-year-old quarterback who’s made it clear he’s a bit weary of the team’s approach has to give them pause too.

There was talk after news broke that McDaniels didn’t get the Browns job that Brady would be more likely to return. But that choice isn’t solely Brady’s to make.