SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The story of the 2007 Patriots dynamic new group of receivers is well known. Randy Moss returned to the impressive production of his glory days with an NFL-record 23 touchdown receptions in his first season in New England. Wes Welker, also a first-year Patriot, caught a franchise-record 112 passes as the most productive slot machine in the game. And Tom Brady took full advantage of his new weapons to throw an NFL-record 50 touchdowns passes on the way to his first NFL MVP award.
But one aspect of the New England receiving corps that's gone a bit unnoticed this fall as the team re-wrote the record books with its pass-happy offense was the job that first-year Patriots wide receivers coach Nick Caserio has done. Having worked in New England in varying capacities since 2001, including spending the last four years in the scouting department as an area scout (2003) and Director of Pro Personnel (2004-06), Caserio returned to the coaching ranks last spring to replace Brian Daboll who'd left to join the Jets.
His first order of business was to oversee a complete overhaul of the Patriots wide receiver position. Moss and Welker came via trade. Donte' Stallworth joined through free agency. Experienced holdovers like Troy Brown, Chad Jackson, Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell were seen as more likely to be role players than top targets for Brady. The new-look offense had plenty of talent and promise, but Caserio was the man charged with the most immediate responsibility of turning spring potential into fall production.
"The thing about that group in general is that amongst themselves there is a great rapport that they've developed. They've worked hard," Caserio said Wednesday at a media table at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa. "They set goals from themselves. They have expectations amongst themselves and they push one another. For me it was just a matter of whatever your personality and coaching style is, be consistent with that. Do your job and let the players do their job in turn. They've been receptive and like I said the communication and the banter back and forth, whether it's banter or constructive criticism amongst themselves…it's a unique group from that perspective."
It was a unique group of newcomers with a unique first-year coach. Caserio, like his college football teammate at John Carroll University and current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, is young and inexperienced in NFL coaching ranks. He spent the 2002 season in New England as an offensive coaching assistant, but until this spring the bulk of his time with the Patriots had been in the personnel department.
According to the players he was entrusted to mold, the 32-year-old Caserio comes off as anything but an inexperienced and immature coach.
"My first impression was that he's very serious. He's always very, almost an army-cadet type deal," Welker said. "He's always on top of his business. He's very professional. He wants to make sure that we know all of our plays. He makes sure we're on top of everything and he does a great job of keeping us all together and making sure we understand the game plan. Any extra time we need he's always in their pushing us to get the extra time. He's done a great job for us being able to pull us all together and make sure we're on top of everything."
Some might think having a young coach like Caserio in a role overseeing a guy like Moss with all his perceived baggage might be a setup for disaster. In reality it was a recipe for record-breaking success with Moss serving as Caserio's star pupil.
"I think you just go in there with a blank slate. Whatever happened in the past happened in the past," Caserio said of his approach with Moss. "What we know is what we see on a day-to-day basis. That's all you can really go off of. Randy works hard. He's diligent. He's smart. And he's receptive to coaching. So that's our experiences with him and they have been nothing but positive this season."
Nothing but positive would also be an accurate description of the work Caserio has done with the corps as a whole. His coaching success has come working under the watchful eye of McDaniels. Caserio was once the John Carroll quarterback throwing to McDaniels at receiver. Now the roles have reversed a bit as McDaniels works closely with Brady, while Caserio pulls together the team's talented targets.
"He's done a great job and I would anticipate Nick doing a great job with whatever responsibility he has. That's the way he is. That's the way he works. He's tireless. He gives a lot of effort and puts a lot of preparation time into coaching the receivers and that position," McDaniels said. "Those guys, it's a unique group. There are a lot of different personalities. There are a lot of different skill sets and you have to be able to adapt to all of them. There is a lot of talent but there is a lot of coaching involved at those positions. We ask a lot of those guys. And we don't have a lot of time each week to change this and change that so you have to be able to get your point across quickly, get it done on the practice field and then be able to execute it on Sundays. He's done a great job with that group as a whole."
As serious, prepared and studious as Caserio can be with his players, his age has actually been a strength in building a relationship with his players.
"Nick's a guy who has a lot of energy. He's a young guy who is hungry just like a lot of us," Kelley Washington said. "He's just starting as a receivers coach and a lot of us our careers are really starting as far as winning and winning championships. We're all hungry, I feel. So when we have meetings and we get on the practice field there is a lot of energy. He's just been a great coach for us. He's learning himself but he knows a lot more than we do. He allows us to communicate with him. He understands because he played football before. He knows that it's not all about classroom and it's not all about yelling and screaming. He just lets us go out and practice hard and let our performance speak for itself in the games."
Occasionally McDaniels and Caserio lighten the mood a little by putting on some film of their own gridiron glory days.
"We've done that every once in a while just to grab their attention and show them what real football was all about back in Division III," McDaniels said with a smile.
Whether it's a quick clip of film to bring levity to the locker room or in his role overseeing the most impressive group of receivers the league had to offer in 2007, Caserio has performed to critical acclaim this fall. Part of that might be that he's his own toughest critic.
"As a coach you are always putting pressure on yourself to perform at a high level," Caserio said. "You have to do your job. Obviously we've been able to win, so that has helped. Pressure to me, I don't look at it like there is a lot of pressure on me. Your pressure is to do your job and perform, that's the bottom line."
Both he and his players have clearly done just that this season.