FOXBOROUGH — The differences between the team Josh McDaniels remembers when he left New England to become coach of the Broncos in 2009 and the one he’s rejoining as offensive coordinator this season are noticeable, but slight.
Clearly, Tom Brady isn’t going anywhere. Wes Welker is still catching 100 balls a season (even if he’s franchised).
The locker room is missing some furniture, such as Kevin Faulk. And names such as Sammy Morris, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, and the biggest of all, Randy Moss, are gone.
Now, the Patriots’ two most potent weapons are young, hyperathletic tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. There’s a pack of young running backs, led by Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, battling for carries. And there’s a stable of veteran wideouts at Brady’s disposal.
When McDaniels thought about all the untapped potential for an offense that was already second in the league last season, he could hardly hide his excitement.
Is his job as fun as it looks?
“Yes,” he said emphatically, after getting through the first day of camp. “Yes, it is.”
After leaving the Patriots, McDaniels spent two years in Denver before spending last season as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. Now, he’s returned to New England, where he will head a fully loaded offense that accounted for 6,848 total yards last season.
It’s more potent than the one he left behind after the 2008 season (fifth in the NFL that year) and dramatically better than last year’s Rams (the second-worst offense in the league), and those differences give him reasons to be excited.
“The tight ends are different,” McDaniels said. “The backs are a little younger. Things have changed. There’s a few different coaches on our staff, but I think that happens at every team every year in the NFL and we just adapt. We’re so used to doing it by now that it just comes with the territory. But it’s exciting. You start to formulate what you’re going to actually be in training camp. There’s always some things that change in training camp as well, so it will be exciting to see how it kind of unfolds.”
He will reunite with Jabar Gaffney, who joined him in Denver in 2009. While they were there, Gaffney said he bonded with McDaniels, getting to know him off the field. McDaniels was a disciple of Bill Belichick, but his personality and approach to the game were his own.
“In my opinion, he is one of the best offensive coordinators out there, and he’s a good person,’’ said Gaffney. “He doesn’t ask you to do nothing that he doesn’t expect you to do. He puts you in spots where you can excel.
“Josh, he’s a great coach. He’s a guy that all the players love to play for. He gets us coached up, and brings it out here to the field and coaches us up and puts us in positions [to succeed].”
When McDaniels left New England, Matt Patricia was the linebackers coach. Last year, Patricia coached the safeties, and this year he’s the defensive coordinator. Patricia was glad to have McDaniels back as his counterpart on the other side of the ball.
“Josh McDaniels is a good friend and a good football coach,” Patricia said. “So [I’m] glad to have him on board and we’re just looking forward to practicing against those guys every day.”
Patricia was promoted in the offseason, but on the first day of camp the new title hadn’t changed the job at all.
“We don’t really get too much into titles,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo. “You know how we are. He’s doing pretty much the same thing and he’s leading this defense.”
His job will be to get the most out of a defense that will have at least 11 new faces contributing. The Patriots used all but one of their seven draft picks to bolster a defense that was the worst in the AFC in yards allowed.
“I think we’re all just trying to come out here and do our job and really focus on getting the team ready to go for the season,” Patricia said. “We all honestly really just work excellent together and we all really just do a great job and everybody just divides the pie up and we all work together really well.”