During the joint practices in Allen Park, Mich. last week, Danny Amendola watched Tom Brady drop back and throw to practically an entirely new cast of receivers, many of them rookies.
Amendola saw some plays, including a few missed connections, while he was waiting for the Lions offense to take the field for their 11-on-11 sessions against the Patriots defense.
Brady’s former go-to-guy recalled what it was like his first year, trying to learn the Patriots offense and get on the same page with No. 12.
Listening to him lay out some of the dynamics, it’s clear it wasn’t easy.
He knows exactly what N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Maurice Harris and even second-year player Braxton Berrios are dealing with.
“They’re going to have to learn quickly, you know what I’m saying?” Amendola said as he stopped to chat after Wednesday’s walkthrough session. “At this point, I know they’re 100 percent focused in on what (Brady’s) saying, because he is who he is. They’re going to do their best to give themselves the best chance to succeed. But Brady is a huge helper. He’s a coach on the field. He understands how the process works, the operation of an offense. That’s the most important thing.”
Brady will provide instruction and coaching on what he demands from a receiver, and what’s expected. The more a player learns and adapts, the more he’ll get in sync with Brady and see the football delivered his way.
Mistakes happen at the outset. But repeat offenders don’t sit well with the quarterback, or last very long.
After a few weeks of camp, some bonds have already started to form. Brady and Meyers have advanced to the point where the Patriots quarterback trusts the rookie receiver enough to deliver the football before Meyers has made his break. Brady wouldn’t do that if he didn’t trust Meyers would get to the spot.
Harry isn’t quite to that point, but he’s making plays in tough spots down the sideline, and in the end zone. That will win over any quarterback.
Berrios had some trouble getting open the first few weeks of camp, but enjoyed a bit of a break-through the second day of the joint practices, so Brady kept coming back to him.
What would Amendola’s advice be to first-round pick Harry, where much is expected of the Arizona State product this year?
“There’s a couple things. The two-minute drill, all the situational football, that’s all new to a rookie. The learning curve is a little different for him,” said Amendola. “But once you get an understanding how the NFL works, how situational football works, you’ll get a pretty good understanding how the game works. Teams like the Patriots stress situational football moreso than a lot of other teams in the NFL.”
It might take awhile for Harry to process and learn all of the nuances of the playbook. But if he gets down what’s expected in the no-huddle, in the red zone, etc., he’ll be well on his way.
And, the second piece of advice?
“Pay attention to your coach!” Amendola said with a smile.
That would be head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Between Belichick, McDaniels and Brady, all of the new guys are getting a wealth of information.
Taking the time to process, learn and understand all of it will make every one of them better receivers. But it’s also important for the receivers to not only grasp the playbook, and know who’s running what route, but to also know on sight what the defense is doing in front of them.
Amendola famously called off one of the Patriots trick plays – the one with Julian Edelman throwing him a deep pass for a touchdown – during an early season game against Kansas City prior to using is successfully against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2014 playoffs because he knew the play wouldn’t work against the coverage he saw against the Chiefs. So he got Brady’s attention and the quarterback changed the play at the line.
In the Patriots offense, receivers do more than just get ready to run routes before the snap. They all need to be able to read the defense, and know collectively what that means for the play that’s been called.
“Certain routes, on certain plays will demand more reading than others. Different concepts give you option freedom within your route, and stuff like that,” said Amendola. “That comes with time, too. We all have to be seeing the same coverage, at the same time. Even if they’re trying to disguise it, we all have to know they’re trying to disguise their coverage. We all have to be on the same page. That comes with time. That’s what everyone is doing out here now.”
Amendola said the Lions have similar expectations for their receivers. He’s now into his second different offense in as many years. But he’s aided by the fact the system new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell runs is similar to others he’s had in the past with the Rams.
During Amendola’s time with the Rams, who were in St. Louis then, he played under three different offensive coordinators – Pat Shurmur (‘09-10), McDaniels (‘11) and Brian Schottenheimer (‘12).
“It’s similar terminology, but the verbiage is a little different,” said Amendola. “It’s just understanding the words, and what they mean. The concepts are very similar. I know what to do, I just have to basically learn the vocabulary.”
Adam Gase’s offense in Miami, meanwhile, was a completely different animal. So it’s been a process, even for a veteran like Amendola.
And once you get the playbook down, receivers still have to get in tune with the quarterback. Back in 2013, after signing a free agent contract, it took him awhile to build that chemistry with Brady. Before long, though, he was out in Montana with Edelman at Brady’s place, catching passes during the offseason and building their connection.
Amendola agreed it was good Harry spent time jump-starting the process by catching passes in Brady’s back yard.
“Yup, that part takes time, too,” said Amendola. “During the offseason, I went out to California, got some reps in with (Matthew Stafford). You’re always talking, always coming up with new ideas to try and get open and try to make plays.”
While Brady didn’t play in Thursday night’s preseason opener against Detroit, he did get in some good work, fine-tuning connections with the new guys, who later performed well in Thursday night’s 31-3 blowout of the Lions. He’ll do the same in Nashville this week with joint practice sessions against the Titans.
SAME OLD BRADY
Stafford was asked if he’d noticed anything different or new about Brady after watching him during the few days of joint practices.
“I don’t know anything new. I think we’ve all watched him on TV in games for a long time. He’s extremely consistent. Obviously, a really talented guy,” Stafford said. “He likes to talk about where he got drafted and all that (laughter), but he’s got a lot of talent, too. He still throws it really well. You can see it out there. He throws it great. So, he’s just doing the same old stuff he’s always been doing.”
Former Patriot Tavon Wilson, a Lions defensive back, had a slightly different view. He thinks Brady offers something new every year.
“He’s continued to get better, I think every year,” said Wilson. “He finds a different way to get a little better, and that’s something I’ve tried to take from him, watching him over the years.”
MORE CATCHES, PLEASE
Dwayne Allen, who was essentially a blocking tight end in New England, is hoping to become more of a pass-catching threat again with the Dolphins.
“I don’t feel like I need to prove anything. The coaching staff signed me to come on here to play the tight end position. Whatever plays they call, I’ll execute them to the best of my ability,” Allen said after the Fins first padded practice, via the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “If it’s more passing plays than I’ve had in the past two years, I’ll be happy about it.”