The New England Patriots did not pull the trigger at the NFL trade deadline yesterday, which means that they will head into the second half of the season with the same core of players they already used from weeks one through seven. That being said, NFL rosters are obviously flexible constructs with injuries in particular impacting how a team builds and maintains its 53-man team and 10-man practice squad over the course of a season.
New players are added to those teams on a regular basis, and with the season already in full swing need to be brought up to speed as quickly as possible. “The position coach will take the lead on that,” explained Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during a conference call on Tuesday when asked about the challenges of signing new players during the season. “Our job is to begin that new process with that new player.”
McDaniels’ unit saw plenty of additions this year. Not only did the team draft five offensive guys – of which only one, running back Sony Michel, is still on the active roster –, it also added numerous outside free agents between March and now. The latest of which is former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who joined the team via trade in mid-September and has since grown into one of the Patriots’ top-two wide receivers.
His development from comparatively low-cost acquisition to starting receiver on one of the NFL’s best offenses would not have been possible without the coaching staff’s support. “It’s not to get him to know everything that Julian [Edelman] or Tom [Brady] knows by the end of this week,” acknowledged McDaniels yesterday when talking about the team’s process. “If there’s a player that comes in new, we try to put one foot in front of the next and try to make progress each day and each meeting that we have with the player.”
“If that player is eventually going to play for us this week or down the road, then whatever that player can do to help us, those are the things we’re going to ask of them,” McDaniels continued. “It doesn’t really make much sense to ask more than that because if we’re going to put him in a position to do something he doesn’t know how to do yet or isn’t comfortable doing, then we’re just putting the team at risk.”
In the case of Gordon and the aforementioned Michel, the circumstances of them joining the team were different but the approach and the positive results so far were the same. And according to McDaniels, the lower-level position coaches have to receive much of the credit for this. “[They] do a tremendous job of splitting their time when those things happen,” the 42-year old said about his colleagues.
“Some of our younger quality control guys certainly do a great job of trying to help us caught up there — Jerry [Schuplinski] and Cole [Popovich] and Atif [Austin] and Nick Caley when he was doing that,” noted New England’s offensive coordinator. “Those guys have all spent extra time with [newly added players] to try to get them caught up in terms of our system and the terminology and all that.”
While this process does not always yield the desired results, the Patriots’ staff — arguably more so than any other in the NFL — regularly succeeds in putting its in-season signings in a position to quickly contribute. And according to McDaniels, the coaches themselves also benefit from being part of this process. “It kind of takes you back to when you start your foundational teaching with rookies and new players,” he said. “Our staff does a great job when it occurs, and if it happens again at any point in time, we’ll look forward to doing that with the next guy.”