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Welcome back: Patriots getting reacquainted with Josh McDaniels

05.31.12 at 11:53 pm ET
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FOXBORO — While the return of Josh McDaniels to the New England offense has looked relatively seamless from the outside in the two OTA sessions the media has had access to, Patriots players say both sides are still going through a getting-to-know-you process.

‘€œThere’€™s always getting up to speed when certain things have changed — what he’€™s done the last three or four years and certainly things we’€™ve changed,’€ acknowledged Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following Thursday’s OTA session. ‘€œBut [McDaniels'€™] competitiveness is still there, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win is still there and he loves football. I think that’€™s why we get along so well.’€

McDaniels was in the New England system from 2001 through 2008, working as the quarterbacks coach from 2004 through 2008, and adding offensive coordinator to his title those final three seasons. He left the Patriots following the 2008 season to become the head coach in Denver and spent nearly two seasons in charge of the Broncos. Last year, he was the offensive coordinator in St. Louis before returning to the Patriots staff at the end of last season.

According to wide receiver Deion Branch — who says that McDaniels ‘€œhas thrown a lot of different wrinkles at us’€ during the OTAs — it’€™s clear that the experiences McDaniels had while he was away from New England have shaped his coaching style in his second tour with the Patriots.

‘€œYou can look at it and say that,’€ Branch said. ‘€œThe thing is, I had him as an offensive coordinator, so now that he’€™s been through the transition of being a head coach and back as an offensive coordinator, it’€™s totally different. [But] him being a players’€™ coach, for one, is always a plus.’€

‘€œIt’€™s hard to say — it’€™s still so early,’€ Brady said when asked if McDaniels’€™ head coaching experience has given him anything different. ‘€œI really enjoyed working with him in the past. I really hope that that continues. He obviously has more experience. Hopefully that serves us all well. I have a little bit more experience as well.’€

McDaniels’€™ transition is necessary for several reasons, not the least of which is that in terms of overall personnel this is a much different offense than the one he left after the 2008 season. Of the 11 regular starters on offense that season, only three remain: wide receiver Wes Welker and offensive linemen Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins. (Brady sat out almost all of that season with a knee injury.)

It’€™s also important to remember that the passing game had a radically different look. That year, it was all about the wide receivers: Welker (111 receptions) and Randy Moss (69 receptions) combined for 180 catches, more than half of the 339 passes that were completed by quarterback Matt Cassel. Meanwhile, the tight ends were an afterthought — Ben Watson and David Thomas had a combined 31 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns.

Now, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have emerged as one of the most potent duos in the game, and the change in overall total targets reflect that. In 2009, the Patriots tight ends had 43 catches on 60 targets and finished with a combined 546 yards and seven touchdowns. This past season, it was 169 catches on 237 targets ‘€” almost four times as many targets and catches. In that same span, the wide receivers went from 273 catches on 423 targets in 2009 to 196 catches on 309 targets in 2011.

To try to speed things up, McDaniels has been a hands-on coach throughout the OTA sessions. He’€™s had an active presence, working closely with Brady, and by extension, the rest of the skill position players.

According to Brady, there have been no complaints so far.

‘€œIt’€™s been a lot of fun. [Former offensive coordinator] Billy [O'€™Brien] was great. He’€™s a great coach, I certainly miss him,’€ Brady said. ‘€œAt the same time, it’€™s nice to have familiarity with Josh kind of stepping into that role. I really enjoy him. We’€™ve had a great working relationship for a very long time. It’€™s good to see him out there and work together. It’€™s been a fun spring.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Ben Watson, Bill O'Brien, Dan Koppen
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