FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have begun work on Extreme Makeover: Wide Receiver Edition, with 10 on-field organized team activities and three days of mandatory minicamp to begin transitioning from a unit that relied heavily on Wes Welker to one that, if things go as planned, will feature three free agents and a pair of rookies.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is in charge of the changeover and making sure that Tom Brady comes to trust the new faces as much as he did the old reliables he’s played with in recent seasons.
This season’s receiving corps includes only one player who caught a pass from Brady in 2012, Julian Edelman. Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who had a combined 192 catches last season, have departed, and a quintet headlined by Danny Amendola have been tabbed to replace them.
On Tuesday, after the third of three media-attended OTA sessions at Gillette Stadium, McDaniels lumped the overhaul in with annual roster turnover.
“As coaches, we usually have plenty of changes from one year to the next; 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,” McDaniels said. “Right now, this is a great time of the year for us, and the guys that are out there are working really hard and we’re learning every day.
“We’re going to make mistakes at this time of the year, but that’s what this is for, is to try to get better and improve and learn from the things that we’re not doing well, and hopefully after 13 practices you’re more prepared to go to training camp. These guys have been really adamant about working hard, staying after, doing the extra work that we need to try to get better.”
It is likely neither McDaniels nor Brady was all too happy after Tuesday’s practice: the offense was not crisp, with a number of incompletions from all three quarterbacks, as well as drops from receivers and running backs.
This is the time for making mistakes, McDaniels said; it’s all part of the process.
“I think we have to take the same approach [every year] — we have to go back and establish a foundation, we have to teach them what we believe in and what our system’s all about,” McDaniels said. “Our mode and our approach doesn’t really change: we still go back and teach them from A to Z.’’
The centerpiece of the new group, which also includes veterans Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones and draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, is Amendola.
Signed away from St. Louis as a free agent, Brady has been singing Amendola’s praises, something he doesn’t always do, particularly with receivers.
“He comes in and works really hard. He wants to do everything right,” Brady said at his Best Buddies event last Friday. “He’s very competitive. It’s been a lot of fun.”
McDaniels was the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2011; although Amendola only played in one game that year because of injury, he was still with McDaniels in the offseason and training camp, so he has familiarity with the offense in New England.
“I think any time you have a foundation in the system, it helps any player get going, so 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,” McDaniels said. “He’s made some plays and there’s definitely things he can do and help our football team with.
“There’s a lot of things that he’s learning, because we are new — we change [part of the playbook] every year, we change things up, we’ve got a quarterback for him that he’s never really played with, and some new players that he’s working in tandem with, too. I think it’s been an interesting start for those two guys because they’re both at different places, but they try to work hard and get better every day.”
McDaniels preached patience, and that work done in May and June is just the beginning.
“It’s the time of the year that we learn and grow together as a football team, as an offense, and I think that [receiver] group’s no different,” he said. “There’s no timetables, there’s no what’s going to happen at this time or this time, I think we just have to continue to work to get better.’’