FOXBORO, Mass. — While the Patriots defense will be bringing back nearly all of its starters from 2012, the offense is a different story.
Tom Brady won’t have the comfort of throwing to Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd (or even Danny Woodhead) this year. He’s been working closely with Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins at wide receiver and while both of those players are new to New England, Amendola is not new to Josh McDaniels‘ offense.
Amendola spent one year with the Patriots offensive coordinator in St. Louis. Amendola played just one game that year before his season ended prematurely with a torn triceps. Still, Amendola was able to spend time learning McDaniels’ playbook — even though the slot receiver said it was a bit simpler in St. Louis.
“It’s familiar,” Amendola said of the Patriots’ playbook two weeks ago. “When Josh was in St. Louis I got to know it pretty good. It’s a little more intricate out here. It’s something to grasp. I’m learning it every day.”
McDaniels thinks that experience in St. Louis helps Amendola in New England because it takes a step out of the learning process.
“Danny is familiar with our offense from being in St. Louis when I had the opportunity to spend some time with him in training camp back in 2011,” McDaniels said. “I think any time you have a foundation in the system it helps any player get going. Some of the things that he went through in St. Louis he obviously didn’t have to go through again here. Which I think helps the process.”
Amendola, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Kamar Aiken are the only wide receivers on the roster with experience in McDaniels’ system. That could lend itself to some growing pains in New England as the wideouts attempt to learn a new system and adapt to new teammates. McDaniels, who has experience as a head coach, is ready for the ups and downs, though.
“As coaches we usually have plenty of changes from one year to the next,” McDaniels said. “Sometimes it seems like it’s at one position. Sometimes it’s across the board. But this is really a part of every year that we have in coaching in the NFL. We know there’s going to be some turnover — some different players. Right now, this is a great time of the year for us. And the guys that are out there are working hard and we’re learning every day and we’re going to make mistakes at this time of the yaer. But that’s what this is for — trying to get better and improve and learn from the things that we’re not doing well.”
At this point in OTAs, it appears that the defense is ahead of the offense, but no one appears to be panicking. It is May, after all. The Patriots didn’t take the safe approach this offseason. They decided to rehaul the wide receiver group, which could be viewed as dangerous in New England. The Patriots’ offense has always been notoriously difficult to pick up. That has led to the team bringing back veterans who know the system in the past, like Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth.
A team can only bring back those players for so long, though. Branch and Gaffney had obviously lost a step in the last few seasons and Stallworth only lasted one game in 2012 before his season ended with an ankle injury. With Brady’s career winding down, the pressure is on for the new wideouts to learn the system and get on the same page with their quarterback as quickly as possible.
“It’s the time of the year that we learn and grow together as a football team and as an offense,” McDaniels said. “And I think that group’s no different. There’s no time tables. No what’s going to happen at this time or that time. We just have to work to get better, but that doesn’t stop when you get to training camp.”
The few players that are back from 2012 will have to learn right alongside the free agents and rookies. McDaniels stressed that the offense changes every year by bringing in new aspects.
“Our mode and our approach doesn’t really change,” McDaniels said. “We still go back and teach them from A-Z. Whether they know it already or not, they’re going to hear it again.”
Even if the offense isn’t on the same page yet, to say it’s early would be an understatement. This is the first time the team is getting together since the disappointing end to their season in January. They still have mini-camp next week and almost an entire summer of training camp and preseason games before the season starts Sept. 8 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
If McDaniels isn’t worrying, neither should anyone else.