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Unfiltered Notebook 9/8: McDaniels on opening day adjustments, rookie linebackers making progress

The Patriots are preparing to give and receive some surprises this weekend when they face the Dolphins.


There are always many questions heading into the first game of the regular season and those questions have been magnified in 2020, with zero preseason game film that might tip what teams are about to unleash in September.

"I think each team on opening day, when we did have a preseason, there was still a lot of anxiety and still a lot of unknowns, what you were dealing with relative to what you may or may not see, where players may or may not line up, who may or may not be playing across from you," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Tuesday morning via WebEx. "I think both teams, especially this year across the league, both teams are going to have the same opportunities to unveil some thing that we haven't seen from the other team."

It might be easy under those circumstances to overthink things, to try to some collection of unique packages and plays that might catch the opponent off guard, but McDaniels said the best thing is to keep it simple.

"I think that our focus has usually been on opening day to try to do things we have confidence in, that we know how to do, things we can adjust out of if we get a different look," said McDaniels. "Our system is not gonna break down with the things we're gonna try to do."

But with a new quarterback with unique size and running ability, what does the Patriots offensive system even look like right now? Cam Newton might be the biggest potential for surprise in this first game.

"[Cam's] attitude is been great," said McDaniels of assimilating the new quarterback into the team. "It's been a fun process, he brings a lot of energy. There's never a dull moment and then you can see why the players gravitate so much towards him and his personality. Whether it's in the meeting room, on the practice field, in the locker room, etc., he's done a really good job."

Still, this will be just the first game for Newton, establishing a baseline from where the team can begin to build around him and play to his strengths. McDaniels stressed it would be a season-long process.

"We have a long way to go in terms of hopefully where we'll ultimately be in terms of growth, and understanding the totality of what we might be able to become on offense."

Steve Belichick happy with young linebackers

Rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings have been thrown into the fire as rookies during a unique offseason. The team will need some contribution from the youngsters and so far, outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick likes what he sees.

"[They've made] a ton of progress," said Belichick. "We've been in those WebEx meetings with those guys all the way back to the spring. We put a lot on their plate mentally back then just because obviously there was nothing physically that we could do with them. Put put a lot on their plate, try to present as many things as we could over the course of the spring, then spending time meeting with them.

"They came along every day, they've been improving every day. They got a long way to go but I'm really happy with both those guys."

The head coach Bill Belichick liked the two rookies versatility but said it will be a weekly process in determining how they'll be deployed.

"We'll have a plan, we'll have an idea of how we think it will go, or the areas that we, we want to use them and that may change from week to week and so forth," said Bill Belichick. "As you mentioned, they have a lot of versatility. There are other players on our team that have versatility too, so when you combine those things together, you just have to figure out what you feel like gives you your best combination from an execution standpoint. But also, what gives you some flexibility to handle the things that your opponent does."

Will they be ready to jump in without any preseason action to get their feet wet? Steve Belichick said it will just be more of the same, put a lot on their plate and see how they handle it.

"We're just gonna have to see how it goes in the game," said Belichick. "We'll see how much these guys can handle.

"I'm sure as the game gets going, we'll see some guys can handle more than others. Honestly, that's a great question and we'll just need to be ready to adapt depending on how the game goes."

WebEx Quotes of Note

Steve Belichick on working with his brother, new safeties coach Brian:

"Me and my brother, regardless of what either of our roles are, we're always talking about football. We've been doing that our whole lives. I guess that's a little more specific to safety play for him now this year since he's coaching back there. It's fun to work with him, it's fun to bring him along in the process. I've been in his shoes as a first-year safety coach, coming off the quality control role. There's a lot to learn at every position in our defense. I'm happy to work with him and get back in the room with those DBs and spend some time with him and Mike [Pellegrino]. I've enjoyed it. We talk a lot about it, there's always new things, there's new things that I can learn from him that I didn't realize when I was coaching the safeties. It's a great working relationship with everybody on our staff."

Cam Achord on finding special teams roles for his players:

"Each guy has to establish his roles. They're starting to establish roles, certain guys are starting to show up here, show up there and that's also gonna be a progression because we didn't have preseason games. We just got to continue to move forward, it's going to be an evolving process this year throughout the season. The next guys got a move up, who's that next guy, who's that guy we can put in those positions and that's part of my job as a coach. I've gotya find those guys to fill those roles."

Bill Belichick on the job of his team and staff dealing with the circumstances this summer:

"They've all been very professional, handled things well. Made adjustments. Sometimes, not easy adjustments or sometimes things needed to be done very quickly, because we recognize a situation needed to be adjusted or fixed, so they reacted and got those things done. So, I think we've been in a pretty good place; we've gotten a lot done. And we still have a lot more to do."

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