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Sat., Mar. 28, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
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McDaniels processing his Patriots offense
In an alternate universe Josh McDaniels might be tutoring a high-profile rookie quarterback named Johnny Manziel.
But after interviewing with the Browns about that team’s head coaching vacancy this offseason the offensive guru realized there was no better place for him at this point in his coaching life, no place that he and his family would be happier than remaining in New England.
So the Patriots offensive coordinator in back at work in Foxborough beginning to put together and coach up what will eventually be the 2014 New England offense. He returns his future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady. He also maintains the entirety of his offensive line and the group of young, developing receivers he deployed to create an offense that was third in league in scoring a year ago.
In fact, the most notable offseason offensive addition to the Patriots was the team’s selection of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of the draft earlier this month.
So, McDaniels has a rookie passer to work with this year, even if it’s not Johnny Football. And in Garoppolo McDaniels sees the types of things he’s seen over the years with many young passers he’s worked with.
“Any rookie has a long way to go. We’ve had young quarterbacks in here before. He’s really no different,” McDaniels said of Garoppolo on Friday following New England’s OTA workout. “He’s going to have a lot to learn in terms of gaining a foundation in what we’re doing, gaining a familiarity with the players and what we’re asking the quarterback to do here. Most guys that come here don’t’ have an abundance of experience in terms of doing the things that we ask the quarterbacks to do in our system. So we’re just gonna work hard every day to try to get him ready to go for training camp so that he can come out and try to play good football and compete with obviously the two guys that have been here for a while. It’s always exciting when you get a chance to coach a young player. That’s what we love to do as coaches and I’ll be excited to do that this year.”
But in an ideal world Garoppolo – who Patriots owner Robert Kraft referred to as “disaster insurance” – won’t play for a while. No. 12 is still the man in New England, coming off a Pro Bowl season.
And despite his growing age and the drafting of his supposed heir, a move that some thought might be extra motivation for Brady, McDaniels sees the same hard worker he’s been coaching since 2001.
While many will be watching to see how much Garoppolo improves in his progression over the coming months and years, McDaniels says that Brady is also still growing as a player in his 15th season.
“Yup, I do,” McDaniels responded quickly when asked if he still sees Brady improving. “It’s hard for me to ever feel that that wouldn’t be the case. Because any time that you have a guy that’s focused on working on all the weaknesses in his game when there really aren’t that many you can see where there would be room for growth. He listens as good or better than he ever has in terms of taking coaching, working on things that we’re trying to get better at. Again I just think that’s a great example for the rest of the guys and he’s certainly shown that he’s gonna work on different aspects of his game to try to fix them and make them better.”
The quarterbacks aren’t the only position that McDaniels has to worry about developing, though. The Patriots had three rookies play pretty big roles at receiver a year ago. While Aaron Dobson is missing OTA work while recovering from foot surgery, both Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins are on the field looking to make long strides in year two.
McDaniels not only likes what he’s seeing, but wonders what he might accomplish moving forward with the young group of pass catchers.
“They’re not rookies, that’s pretty quick to see,” the coordinator said of the young trio. “You can see that right away. Now we’re not in stage 1 anymore. They’ve hit the ground running. They’re in great shape, which is really exciting for us. Their minds have slowed down. They can process in formation. It will be exciting to see how far we can go with them.”
Many believe that the Patriots offense will only go as far as the health of Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski can take it in 2014. Gronkowski spent Friday’s OTA working with the team’s rehab staff. The timetable for his return to full practice and then game action as he works his way back from a torn ACL is unknown.
Despite the obvious importance of Gronkowski to the Brady-led passing attack, McDaniels doesn’t sound t too worried about how the offense will come together with or without big No. 87.
“We’ve been so multiple for so many years, we don’t even consider that an issue,” McDaniels said of balancing life with and without his star tight end. “We’re working with our tight ends right now, and if he was here it would be the same type of thing. We have groupings where certain players play more and certain players play less. We were kind of a jack-of-all-trades last year and have done that many times over the course of the last eight to 10 years here. So our system is broad enough to allow for a player to be out for a specific period of time where that’s during the season, training camp or offseason.”
So for now, McDaniels is teaching the guys on the field – returning veteran and young newcomers alike – what it takes to succeed in the Patriots offense. Where that will go, no one knows. And along the way he’ll be coaching a Hall of Fame quarterback as well as his young understudy.
It’s all part of the job he loves in the place that he loves just as much. It’s life as Bill Belichick’s top assistant leading what is consistently one of the game’s best offenses.
“We’re really focused on trying to teach our system to our players again,” McDaniels concluded of the early stages of the process. “There are always new things you’re adding that we want them to be experienced in before we go to training camp.”
And there’s no other job in any other place that the young, visor-wearing offensive mastermind would rather be doing.