The Patriots offense is entering new territory this preseason as they search for their next starting quarterback and the development of their second-year weapons will play a big part in that important equation, despite complications from the unique circumstances of the 2020 season.
"It's definitely been a different start to training camp," admitted Damien Harris, who spent his rookie season largely in a reserve role but has been taking significant reps in the early days of camp as he looks to establish himself. Along with Harris, second-year receivers N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski are all looking to stack success to take the offense to new heights.
"I learned that in the NFL you just have to prove yourself day in and day out," said Harry on his rookie season. "This is a league where nothing is given to you and you earn everything day by day. That's my approach coming into the season and that's my approach stepping onto the field every day."
For Meyers, he found the mental side of the game to be the biggest challenge as a rookie.
"Growing up as a kid you hear the game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical," said Meyers. "Actually getting here and seeing how people train their minds and the time they spend mentally to get ready to play the game every day it just shows you what you need to do on the mental side to be ready."
That's especially true in New England, with a playbook that was described as "calculus" by Julian Edelman to new quarterback Cam Newton. That playbook can be challenging for even experienced veterans, not to mention last year's rookies.
"There's a lot of things about this offense that can be hard to pick up at first, there's a lot of little details that a lot of guys don't have to pay attention to in college," said Harry. "This second year has helped me a lot just in the offseason getting to study some things and knowing the offense a lot more. I came back, I felt very comfortable with it and it's helped me a lot as a second-year guy."
With a better foundational understanding of the offense, all the young weapons have shown progress in their second training camp. Without their heads spinning in the playbook, they've all shown level heads and good consistency, highlighted by a touchdown grab by Harris in goal line work on Tuesday.
By the time post-practice interviews rolled around, Harris had already moved on.
"Football is more than just one good play," said the running back when asked about the notable moment. "Every single day we want to go out there and string together as many good plays as possible and develop some consistency as a team. That's just kind of our mindset.
"It's not about one play, it's about making play after play after play."
Consistency is the recurring theme for all of the wide receivers, including veteran Mohamed Sanu, who has been trying to lead by example with his own performances.
"I think I just need to be consistent in everything that I do," Sanu said. "Do my job and make sure I'm where I need to be. Make sure I do the little things, so my teammates know: 'Mo's gonna do his part.' So they can do theirs."
"That's probably one of the most important things about being able to play this game," said Meyers. "They don't want guys who can come in here and do it one day or have one good practice. They want a guy that can practice good all year."
With a week of on-field work under their belt, now's the time for the new veterans to start making positive strides.
"I feel like we're just getting comfortable understanding what we all have to bring to the team," said Meyers. "We just want to stack days and keep getting better every day."
If they can continue to build on the foundation they've built in the early days of training camp, the Patriots young weapons could be major factors in rejuvenating the offense in 2020.
Webex Quotes of Note
Damien Harris on playing for Nick Saban and Bill Belichick:
"They're both incredible football coaches. Not a lot of guys have the opportunity to be coached by two of the best to ever do it. I'm very thankful and lucky to have the opportunity. I' m just trying to soak up as much as I can. That's an opportunity that I won't take for granted. All the things I learned from Coach Saban and now the things I'm learning from Coach Bill are all things I'm trying to tune in to and try to fine tune my craft and become a better football player."
Jakobi Meyers on what he takes from Julian Edelman:
"Just watching him day in and day out, the way he works, the way he attacks the game, the way he attacks other players on other team. I mean he's a guy you love to play with but hate to play against. Just watching the way he goes about it, even little route queues, I try to just pay attention to them because he's been doing it a long time and I'd be blessed to be in the situation that he's in."
Jakob Johnson on James Develin and learning about life in the NFL:
"On a personal level, James Devlin was a great mentor to me. Always helped me and the other rookies along. A great guy to learn from. Amazing guy off the field and on the field. But besides that, when it comes to roster moves, I've learned that's just the way it goes in the NFL. And you just adapt and you focus on yourself and what you have to do."
Check out photos of the Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.