Patriots coaches checked in with the media on Thursday afternoon as the team prepares for another open session of practice before the weekend. With an infusion of free agents and rookies, this is the teaching time of the year as coaches look to get the new players ready to go when training camp opens later this summer.
"We love this time as coaches because it's our time to be with our players," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "Getting to be on the grass with them, getting to be able to teach and coach and try to make them better players, I see tremendous value in that."
With a collection of new receivers, tight ends and a rookie quarterback now in the mix, no one has their plate more full than McDaniels, who said he embraces the challenge of getting everyone up to speed in his offense as an opportunity, starting with the quarterback room.
"The best thing about coaching these guys, and we've got four great guys in the room, is you coach all of them hard and you coach them all fairly and you coach them all to what they need," said McDaniels. "One of them might need a kick in the butt once in a while, one of them might need a pat on the back but what all of them need is good honest communication and constructive criticism. We need to teach every day. I'm not taking anything for granted, making sure we cover everything A-to-Z and giving them an opportunity to make [a mistake], fix it, come back and try it again. It's a great opportunity for us to make progress in that room collectively to prepare them to compete in August."
At the forefront are returning starter Cam Newton and rookie first-round pick Mac Jones. Newton joined the team shortly before training camp in 2020, had an entirely virtual offseason crammed into a few short weeks, then saw his season derailed four weeks in after a positive COVID-19 test.
Now, with a chance to return to in-person offseason activities, McDaniels has seen strides from the second-year Patriot.
"It was a unique situation when [Cam] got here, having really no experience and exposure to our system prior to training camp starting," said McDaniels. "I honestly can't remember another time in my career where we've had a player that has done that. Even the rookies that get drafted, they get information prior to the end of spring. It was a unique scenario, he worked his butt off last year and then he came back certainly this year at a much different position. He has a different grasp of the offense, a different understanding of the terminology. And now we're working on refining, the precision, the details."
After the veterans like Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, the rookie Jones is coming off a National Championship season that saw him set a record for completion percentage. During the pre-draft process, McDaniels got an up-close at Jones during one of his two Pro Days.
McDaniels described what he looks for when attending those kinds of workouts.
"Are they in control of the workout, are they talking to the other players that are there to participate with them? Are they coachable? You certainly wanna see their feet, their throwing mechanics, their accuracy, their arm strength in person...You get to watch them interact with people, are they ready for this kind of situation?"
After not only attending the week of Senior Bowl practices, Jones also was the first of the quarterback prospects to throw at two different Pro Days. But what made Jones the 15th overall pick was likely decided before his throwing sessions.
"[Mac]'s won a lot of games in the last year-plus at Alabama," said McDaniels. "He's played in some big games, some pressure situations. He takes care of the football, he's demonstrated an ability to function at a pretty high level in their system and their offense with their terminology. He competed in a league that's widely regarded as one of the top conferences if not the top conference in all of college football. He stood out in some ways in terms of throwing the football in command and protecting the football and not hurting his football team."
This summer's competition at the position is ripe with intrigue, but for McDaniels and the other coaches, it's already an exciting time of year, especially with the return to full capacity stadiums.
"This is what I love to do, this is what excites me about being a professional football coach," said McDaniels."The new players, young or old, are all learning and learning rapidly. They're all listening, they're all asking great questions and every day that we're given the opportunity to work with them, whether it be in the meeting room or on the practice field, I feel like there's progress being made.
"We've got a great group of guys, great energy in the building. I couldn't be more happy with the way we're working and how much effort we're putting forth in terms of improving as a football team, especially in my case on offense."