PATRIOTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOSH McDANIELS
Q: How has your philosophy and play calling changed season-to season? Are there any significant changes you have to make based on your offensive personnel?
JM: Yeah, I think each year is different for multiple reasons. The first part of that is we spend a lot of time in the offseason evaluating what we've done and how we may do that better, and then also evolving in terms of new ideas or things you want to try to grow your offense or your system moving forward. So, there's always a new element of that. The second part is as each individual person, as a coach – whether it's coaching your position, calling the game, setting up the game plan, figuring out how you do your job better from the previous year in terms of what you're responsible for – I think there's definitely, hopefully, growth each year in that regard. And then I would say the personnel from year-to-year and week-to-week, really it's a similar conversation. Our job is to go out and score points and take care of the ball. So, whatever variables we have, we have to try to do whatever we can with our personnel and the scheme available to us, considering whatever the conditions are – weather, opponent, match-ups, etc. – to try to do the best thing we can each week. So, from last season to this season, again, there's not much carryover in that regard. Systematically, we haven't changed our system, but there's always that element of going into the next season trying to build on your offseason, your training camp. Then you get into the regular season and you continue that process, working together to try to ultimately arrive at the absolute best way to play. This week in particular is a little exciting because there's an unknown element to the opponent. You're not sure exactly what they're going to do. You may have a good idea, but it's never 100 percent that way. We're going to get out there and play a full game for the first time with this new group, which is exciting, and at the same time, you're going to find out a lot about yourself as you head into the first week and then move on from there.
Q: When you lose a player like Rob Gronkowski, even if the system doesn't change, do you have to change your approach philosophically trying to replace a guy that had been so instrumental in the past?
JM: The terminology and all of that stuff, that's all the same for our players and our coaches. Every week we deal with challenges in terms of personnel, and this happens to be – every year, we have new players on the team to start the season, as well, so we never just put the game plan together and not consider our personnel and what is best for them. The most important thing we can do as coaches is make good decisions about the strengths of our own players and try to put them in positions to succeed on game day. There's nothing that we do that's more important than that, aside from teaching and growing them as players in practice and meetings. But, when you get to the game day portion of that, it's our responsibility to put them in positions to do things that they can do well. Again, when you've lost many players over many years, you don't just try to plug-and-play and say that one person is the same as somebody else who's no longer there. I would say that happens every year at multiple positions. So, again, the changes that goes on is not just about the terminology, it's just in terms of our strengths this year are going to be different than some of our strengths were last year and vice-versa. We might have a weakness here or there, and that's football. I think each team is dealing with the same set of issues or unknowns in that regard and you try to do the best you can, and then you also continue to sort that out as you head through the season. It doesn't end, obviously, on Week 1.
Q: How much do you study the opposing defense's, in this case the Steelers', personnel and try to project what they may do differently based on some of the players they've added? Particularly with Mark Barron and Devin Bush, is there anything you've seen that may help you anticipate how they play you on Sunday night?
JM: I think we're obviously familiar with those players. Whether it be due to the film in the preseason or previous years we've seen them play, whether it's in pro football or college football, for that matter. In this week, one of the things you've got to try and do is not – you don't spend too much time guessing about what may happen because you could do yourself a lot of harm in that regard. What we know is that we're going to play a really good group on Sunday night that's really well-coached. You have an idea of the things that they do well based on many years of film study and understanding how they try to play and when. Then there's always a couple questions you have that you're going to find out in the first quarter of the first game of the season – where they're going to line so-and-so up, who is going to be in nickel, are they going to play this grouping, are they going to rotate players, are they going to play three-for-two at some positions. Some of those things are going to be determined quickly on Sunday night. To spend a lot of time guessing, I think there's a lot of things that we need to do and prepare for. The guesswork is something that just adds time to your week. We know that there's a good group of players that are going to be out there at certain positions. Are they going to play this guy over that guy more, etc.? I think those conversations wait until Sunday to find some of those things out. We know we're going to play a good defense, that's for sure.
Q: What did you see from Jakob Johnson in training camp and what have you liked about him?
JM: Jak came in with a great attitude this offseason. He really put his head down and worked hard through our offseason program, and then continued to do that in OTAs and into training camp – good attitude, he's been out there every day, toughness, willing to do the things that you need to do to play that position on offense, smart kid, studies hard, prepares well, knows what to do and is ready to go. And he's competitive, so I think there's nothing more you can ask of each player than to give your best and be ready to go when your number's called. I think Jak's done that and I look forward to continuing to work with him.
Q: Were you surprised how much he knew and was ready to go when he first got to camp, since he's a European exception player?
JM: No. Like I said, I think you go in with an open mind with each new player that you meet, wherever they come from. That's what we did, and really the evaluation will take care of itself as you give the players opportunities to do the things that you're asking them to do. So, Jak did a good job of those things when he was asked to perform, and we'll see where it goes.
Q: How did you take the news the other day when you heard the news about Brian Hoyer's release, and what do you lose by not having him in the locker room?
JM: Brian's a great guy and he's a good player. He added a lot to the team. This time of the season each year is never easy for anybody – players, coaches, families, etc. – and we all understand that that's a part of the game that we're in. We certainly wish him the very best. He did a great job in his role here, whether that be to prepare to play for us or assist the other side of the ball. He's just a professional, a true professional. Great person, and I'm happy for him that he's got another opportunity that he's excited about, too. Those decisions are made every year, and I know we do what's best for the team. I'm excited to coach the guys we have. And those relationships with the players, you hope you form good enough relationships that those things last far beyond football, which is the goal.
Q: What does the offense lose with David Andrews being out for the year, and what does Ted Karras bring to the table?
JM: David's a captain, a guy who's been out there every day for a long while and is a great leader, prepares extremely hard. And he's tough, plays the game the right way and is a great teammate. Any time these kinds of things happen, it's tough. You feel worse for the player because he loves to play and we love to have him out there, but that's tough for him. We have to adjust and move forward with what we have, and we've got some guys here that have certainly played a lot of football, between Ted and Russ [Russell Bodine] and the guys inside that we have. So, Ted is a tough guy, and we've played with him and won with him both at center and guard. We're going to pick up and move forward and continue to work hard to be the best we can be. Those guys in the offensive line room have a great attitude and they know that their opportunity is staring them in the face, so I'm sure we'll get everybody's best this week.
Q: How has having Troy Brown around helped the offensive staff, and how do you envision that going forward with him?
JM: I had the great pleasure of coaching Troy for a few years towards the end of his career. He's one of the great Patriots of all-time, obviously, and he has a wealth of information and knowledge and wisdom that he shares with the players. It's difficult to really say how far that can really extend because he played. He played this game and he played here. He was coached by our staff and in our style, so the value he brings is significant. I'm really happy to have him here, and every role that he's been asked to fill in this regard, he's jumped at the chance. He continues to work with any of the guys in the receiving room or the punt returners or that sort of thing. He's really helping our staff. I really love having him here. Like I said, he was such a great influence on our team when he was a player, and he's extended that now as he's starting his career in this crazy profession called coaching.
Q: Are there certain routes as a receiver that may require a degree of anticipation that requires time to develop a relationship with the quarterback?
JM: I think that the [inaudible] on that is about timing and anticipation, trust, execution and discipline. There's a lot that goes into all of those things. And it doesn't really matter what the route is, all of those things are in play. We're continuing to work with guys that have come off of different lists and those types of things, but there's no excuses for that. It's our job to find what we do well now, and it's also our job to improve upon that group of things as we move forward. We're excited about Sunday. We have a really tough task in the Pittsburgh defense ahead of us. We have things that we have confidence in and those are the things we're going to do, and we're going to continue 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 team is dealing with injuries, guys coming off P.U.P. [Physically Unable to Perform], etc., who might not have as many reps, timing, days at practice, etc. That's just the National Football League. Our job is to go out there and play well and score points, take care of the ball and help our team win, and that's what we're going to attempt to do this week.
PATRIOTS SECONDARY/SAFETIES COACH STEVE BELICHICK
Q: We saw Joejuan Williams play a little bit of safety in the final preseason game. Is he someone you’ve been able to work with extensively in your room, or was that more of a one-time thing? How do you view his versatility moving forward?
SB: Yeah, we try and get the most out of all our players – not just Joejuan but everybody in the back end. It was just another opportunity to see what he can do on the field. We’ve done that with a lot of players in the past. I’m sure we’ll do it with a lot of players moving forward. But, yeah, it was just trying to get him into the game, work on some different roles and let him show what he could do.
Q: Is there anything about his individual skillset that might make him a decent fit at safety?
SB: I’m not really sure. Joejuan has a really unique skillset. He’s obviously a new player to our team and we’re still trying to figure out the best role, best way to use him. He’s a unique player and has a lot of potential to be a good player. We’re just trying to figure out the best thing to do with him.
Q: How valuable is it to have experience in the secondary, especially the safety position?
SB: Yeah, it’s very valuable. Those guys have played a ton of football together, they’ve taken a lot of snaps, built a lot of camaraderie with each other over the years. Yeah, I can’t speak enough good things on those guys and all the work that they put in in the meeting rooms, in the walkthroughs, to be fluid out on the field. Those guys do a great job working with one another just controlling and communicating in the back end.
Q: How important is what they can do as far as their communication with each other?
SB: It’s kind of like the quarterback on offense. The safeties – they’ve got 21 guys in front of them, so there’s a lot of directing traffic and multiples that they have to deal with on a play-to-play basis, especially a team like Pittsburgh that presents a ton of different challenges. They’ve got a lot of pre-snap and post-snap communication to make sure everybody’s on the same page. So, a lot of potential variables that could happen in front of them and there’s no coaches out on the field, so it’s their job to sort it out.
Q: How are you enjoying your coaching journey as it grows each year? It seems you have more on your plate this year. With your last name, I think people notice a little more what kind of coach you are.
SB: Yeah, I’m not too worried about all that stuff. I’m just trying to have fun and win some football games. I love football. I’ve been around it my whole life. I enjoy any responsibility I’m given. Each day is a new day, each year is a new year, so I’m just trying to work on my craft and be the best coach I can be, regardless of what my name is.
Q: Has anything surprised you this year as different or more challenging or more fun?
SB: Yeah, like I said, each year is different. It’s a different coaching staff, different team. That’s true every year, so I’m just taking it one day at a time, trying to enjoy it as best I can and try to get better.
Q: From a big-picture perspective, do you feel the defense is more versatile than other years?
SB: Yeah, I’m not really sure what the future holds for our defense. Each year, we just try and build as much chemistry and camaraderie with the unit as we can. I can’t really speak on last year or years past versus this year. We’re just kind of worried about the team that we’ve got right now. We’ll just try and put the best product we can out on the field.
Q: Now that Obi Melifonwu has had an entire offseason here, have you seen significant improvement from him from where he was down the stretch last season? Does he look more comfortable in this defense?
SB: Yeah, definitely. I mean, like you said, a full offseason here. The two of us got to spend a lot of time together, work on all the different intricacies of this defense. Yeah, Obi works hard and improves every day.
Q: Last year, no team in the NFL lined up empty more than Pittsburgh. In defending against them, how does that stress the need for communication in the secondary and what are the challenges of going up against that offense, in particular?
SB: Yeah, I think that they just have a lot of good players and they can get into different formations, they move guys around, their players are very versatile, they can play different spots, they can all do different things. So, in terms of communication – how we’re going to handle guys being in different spots, what we’re going to do when players line up differently. Obviously, it’s a new year. They’ve got a different roster than they did last year, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Like I said, it will be up to those guys on the field to communicate what to do.