Phillip Dorsett

McDaniels on pressure to involve Antonio Brown: Patriots don't 'force' the ball to anyone

McDaniels on pressure to involve Antonio Brown: Patriots don't 'force' the ball to anyone

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have just imported one of the game's best talents into their offensive meeting room in Antonio Brown. He's also proven to be a migraine headache to coaching staffs in Pittsburgh and Oakland.

Concerns about his ability to create significant strife in the Patriots locker room seem exaggerated. There are strong personalities who stand as pillars for the culture Bill Belichick has worked to establish in New England, with Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, James White, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower being among them. It's a long list.

But Brown has not been shy about bothering his coaches over the years. 

It was well-documented on HBO's "Hard Knocks" and on Brown's on social-media accounts that frustration reigned in Raiders offices when it came to Brown's unwillingness to play for the team. According to multiple reports out of Pittsburgh -- some which have only surfaced recently due to how his time in Oakland ended -- Brown hasn't been afraid to voice his displeasure with coaches ever since he signed his first contract extension with the Steelers in 2012.

In 2013, he reportedly confronted Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley about what he deemed to be a lack of targets. 

"Being a hungry playmaker on the team, I did what any good player around should do," Brown said at the time. "You talk to the person who controls the scheme of the game and see what he can do to get you involved, or see what you can do to get things going . . . I didn't think it was a big issue. We just have to find a way to win. I guess this is what happens when you lose."

In 2015, Steelers tight end Heath Miller asked Brown to stop complaining about a lack of targets. In 2017, Brown lit up a Gatorade cooler after Ben Roethlisberger didn't look in his direction when he was open for a big gain. Early last season, Brown got into it with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sidelines after having fallen behind the Chiefs.

Now the Patriots will try to figure out how to best acclimate Brown to their system while avoiding similar incidents.

Asked if there was any pressure on his part as Patriots play-caller to get Brown involved early on despite the lack of practice time he's had with the team, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that wasn't an issue as far as he was concerned. 

"No. The goal for us is always the same," McDaniels said. "Have a really good week of preparation. Try to make sure our guys know what our plan is, and we've prepared them as best we can for the opponent. Then go out there and take care of the football and score as many points as we can playing complementary football. 

"We have a lot of good football players on our team. A lot of guys that have roles that they can perform well. We gotta go out there and put our guys in good positions, hopefully with a really good week of practice. We'll see how it goes as we go forward. 

"Certainly we've always had the same concept in terms of our run game, pass game, our offense in general. We're gonna try to throw it when we're supposed to throw it. We really, we don't try to force the ball anywhere or to anybody. Because that's not necessarily the way we do it."

How Brown comes to terms with that philosophy could dictate how well -- and how long -- he enjoys being part of the Patriots roster.

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Tom Brady, Bill Belichick praise 'dependable' Phillip Dorsett after Week 1 win

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick praise 'dependable' Phillip Dorsett after Week 1 win

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Phillip Dorsett isn't the most talented wide receiver on the New England Patriots roster, but he's quickly becoming one of quarterback Tom Brady's most trusted targets.

Most of the talk surrounding the Patriots entering Sunday night's season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers centered around Antonio Brown, the elite wide receiver who's set to officially join the defending champs this week. Brown's arrival set off quite a reaction on social media, with fans wondering if Brady's current group of receivers is the best of his 20-year career.

One wideout who didn't receive a ton of attention over the last 36 hours is Dorsett. He's not No. 1 or No. 2 on the depth chart, but his excellent performance in the playoffs last season, combined with his fantastic effort Sunday night, has established the 26-year-old as a key piece in New England's offense.

Dorsett absolutely torched the Steelers secondary in the Patriots' 33-3 victory at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. He tallied four receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns. 

"(Dorsett) did a great job," Brady said. "Phil's smart, dependable, consistent, tough -- continued to take advantage of the opportunity and he's done a great job for us. He plays a lot of different spots. He was out there all training camp and came up with two huge plays tonight. So, it was great getting him the ball, seeing him score like that. And you can't forget about him because he can run through the defense and make a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. We'll just keep spreading it around."

Dorsett owns one of the most impressive streaks in the NFL. Brady's last 20 targets to Dorsett in the regular season, dating back to the 2018 campaign, all have resulted in completions. Dorsett credits a lot of the chemistry he's developed with Brady to their work out on the practice field.

"I would say it comes down to practice, just building trust in practice," Dorsett explained. "Before and after practice working on different routes and the timing of things. I think it definitely helps in games."

Both of Dorsett's touchdowns were impressive. The best of the bunch was his 58-yard score in the third quarter. Dorsett ran right past the Steelers defensive backs and Brady tossed a perfect ball. 

His first touchdown came in the second quarter. Brady split two Steelers defenders with another pinpoint throw, finding Dorsett for a 25-yard score.

"Phil has got a lot of speed. He can definitely stretch the field and we've seen him make those big plays before," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "We've seen it in practice. He had some big catches for us and, again, that opened up some other things offensively as well.

"Tom did a great job, solid coverage, hit him. Sometimes, those are the toughest throws for a quarterback when a guy is wide open running down the middle of the field, but he put it right on him. Phil's done a good job for us, been out there every day. He's a tough kid that's been very dependable. Smart, plays all the positions and has come through for us in a lot of big games."

The Patriots' wide receiver depth chart is getting pretty crowded, especially with Brown set to enter the mix. Dorsett's only goal is to just keep proving that he deserves a meaningful role in this offense, and with performances like Sunday night, he should have plenty more opportunities to showcase his talent.

"I focus on my job, and that's going out there and getting better every day," Dorsett said. "I feel like it's paying off. I can't worry about things I can't control, so I just come out here every day and and I work, and I work and I work, and I grind. That's all I worry about."

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Bill Belichick blunt on Patriots receivers: Can't 'wave a wand' to make up for lost time

Bill Belichick blunt on Patriots receivers: Can't 'wave a wand' to make up for lost time

Bill Belichick was very open about it earlier this week when he relayed the issue with his receiver group going into Week 1 of the regular season.

"The whole receiver situation has been challenging all through camp with the limited availability of certain players," Belichick said. "I'd say most of the players have been limited at one point or another. So we just have to use the information we have and do the best we can with it. We'll have to see how it goes."

Building the roster at that position wasn't easy. Belichick ended up with six receivers. One of whom was told he would be released and then was brought back. Another was released and brought back. One was placed on injured reserve.

Now attacking a game plan will be a whole separate challenge in its own right. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon were removed off of the non-football injury list in late August. Demaryius Thomas came off of PUP around the same time. Those could end up being the team's top three options at receiver when the Steelers visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

The team also has Phillip Dorsett ready to go as well as two undrafted rookies in Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Meyers didn't see real practice time with Tom Brady, though, until he'd established himself as one of the most impressive receivers through the early days of camp. Olszewski saw his first regular work with Brady only after the injury bug had wiped out a significant percentage of those at his position during joint practices with the Titans.

Add it all up and outside of Dorsett, there aren't many wideouts on the roster who've been in the huddle with Brady consistently throughout the course of the summer. Though Brady has built-in experience with players like Edelman and (to a much lesser extent) Gordon, there's going to have to be a period of time during the regular season in which he and his wideouts start to build some trust with one another.

Brady acknowledged that fact on Tuesday morning. Belichick did the same soon thereafter, indicating there's not much he and his staff can do to expedite the confidence-building process between his quarterback and receivers.

"I wish there was," Belichick explained. "I wish we could just wave a wand and all that would happen. But unfortunately I don't really see how that would happen.

"We'll have to do whatever [guys] that have been here for a number of weeks have been doing. Go out here, get the reps together, get our timing, develop that consistency and continuity and confidence on the field.

"I don't know how you can... I don't know how to create that by just wishing it or talking about it. At some point you gotta go out there and be able to execute it. We've done some of it. We'll do more and we'll continue to do more and we'll see where we're at."

One would expect that for a player like Gordon — who adapted relatively quickly to what the Patriots did offensively and had nine catches in his first three games with the team last season — that his physical skill set is such that missed practice time might impact him less than others. They could keep it simple with go routes, slants and deep overs, and he'd still be a factor even if the defense had a good idea of what was coming. He averaged 18.0 yards per catch with the Patriots last season running those types of patterns.

Perhaps the same will be true for Thomas. Perhaps the same will be true for Meyers, who showed throughout training camp that he can be a contested-catch threat as well as a nifty route runner who uses subtle moves at the line of scrimmage and at the tops of his routes to create separation.

But there are no easy calls for Brady or Josh McDaniels that will hasten the painstaking process of building trust between the guy throwing the ball and the guys catching it.

"Timing and anticipation," McDaniels began when he listed the critical factors to a successful passing game Tuesday. "Trust. Execution. Discipline. There's a lot that goes into all of those things. It doesn't really matter what the route it. All of those things are in play. We're continuing to work with guys that have come off of different [injury] lists and those types of things. But again, there's not excuses for that. It's our job to find what we do well now. It's also our job to improve upon that group of things as we move forward."

The Patriots know what they do well with Edelman. They know what Dorsett can handle. Even with Gordon, last year they discovered pretty quickly that they could be successful when they found ways to exploit his power at the catch point in one-on-one matchups with back-shoulder throws and slants. They also allowed him to make the most of his run-after-catch ability at times with shorter quick-hitting passes near the line of scrimmage.

Maybe that understanding of what that trio can execute will be enough against the Steelers. It might have to be. Ryan Izzo is now the one running out of the tight end spot, not Rob Gronkowski. And even though Patriots running backs are expected to be a significant part of the passing game, the Steelers match up well thanks to one of the most athletic linebacker corps in the NFL with Mark Barron and first-round pick Devin Bush roaming at the second level.

This receiver group hasn't done much at all over the course of the last month. Some are still waiting for their first competitive snaps of the year with Brady against another team. But the pressure will be on Sunday for them to perform, despite having maybe a fraction of the timing and anticipation that Brady so craves.

"We have a really, really tough task in the Pittsburgh defense ahead of us," McDaniels said. "We have things that we have confidence in. Those are the things we're gonna do. We're gonna continue to work throughout the course of the season to build on those things and expand on them in whatever ways we feel is best for the team. That's no different than any other team. Every other team is dealing with injuries, guys coming off PUP, etc., who might not have as many reps, timing, days of practice etc. That's just the National Football League."

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