Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler are learning on a curve, but they won’t be graded that way
FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady seemed closer to satisfied with the offense on Wednesday than he did Sunday night after beating the Texans.
“I think it’s great to get the win. I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do. I don’t think you’d expect to be perfect out there,” Brady said Wednesday. “You just have to be better than the other team, especially early in the year, because you really don’t know what you’re made of, you don’t know really what the other teams are made of, you haven’t been able to study too much.”
It’s Brady’s tendency to nitpick, which is why his insistence Sunday evening that the Patriots could have done a lot better than 27 points against a talent-laden Houston defense wasn’t surprising.
And it’s that no-excuses nature that makes the job of a new receiver in the Patriots offense extra challenging. The Brady “trust tree” doesn’t grow a lot of low-hanging fruit.
This week, for Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler, the Jacksonville defense offers slim pickings as well. The Jaguars got pressure on the quarterback on 35 percent of plays last season according to Football Outsiders, and they were right back at 35 percent in their season opener against the Giants this year.
“It’s pretty tough,” Brady said. “They were a great team last year and gave us everything we could handle into the championship game, and they’re at it again this year. They’ve got the same players, similar scheme — I mean, as good as any defense we’ll face all year. They’ve got an incredible rush, great linebackers, great secondary.”
The Patriots want either Coleman or Fowler to show them something soon, or either could be gone as quickly as they came. It’s a difficult task that others, including several players recently, haven’t been up to.
Since Julian Edelman was officially suspended on July 3, the Patriots have made 21 transactions relating to their wide receiver group (credit to ESPN’s Mike Reiss for first compiling this long list), culminating with the Coleman and Fowler signings Tuesday and the release of Jace Billingsley from the practice squad Wednesday.
“You know, you’re always faced with something. I think we all try to do a good job of just focusing on what our role is and what our job is and try to bring the best we can every day, regardless of who’s out there,” Brady said. “So, those guys are working hard. Everyone wants production at every part of our skill position on offense.”
Brady did acknowledge that the learning curve Coleman and Fowler are facing is steep.
“You know, the receiver position is very critical,” he said. “I would say it’s not a very easy position to learn in our offense. There’s a lot of terminology. There’s a lot of high expectations to perform at a very high level.”
Bill Belichick acknowledged that, in addition, the new receivers aren’t going to learn the offense in an ideal environment like a receiver who joins a team in April, or stays with the same team, would.
“It’s definitely a game of catch-up. When players come in at the beginning, they’re able to get a progression of installation and learn from the bottom up, build a foundation and work their way up. Now it’s more of a game plan situation so we don’t have all of our plays in for this game,” Belichick said.
Coleman and Fowler will learn the plays that are in the game plan this week, which is not close to the whole playbook. In the interest of time, they’ll be told what to do a lot more than they’ll be told why they’re doing it.
Some players need the “why” component to fully grasp a system. Understanding how their individual job fits into the overall play concept often helps players know where to find leverage against defenders. The Patriots want all their players to know the “why” on each play, but it’s too much to learn in five days.
“We’ll try to catch up on as much as we can but we have to prioritize what’s going in for this game, what we need for this game, so we’ll start with that first,” Belichick said. “It’s a little bit of a backwards way of doing it but it’s the best way to prepare for a short window and try to catch up on all of the other things as much as we can — the terminology, all of the fundamental things, things that we’re not going to be doing this week that are important, but we won’t get to all of those this week but we’ll try to catch up on those as soon as we can, but that’s a challenge.”
Consider Phillip Dorsett, whose best game as a Patriot came last week but whose best catch as a Patriot was on the Brady flea-flicker in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game against Jacksonville.
In hindsight, perhaps that was evidence of what seems to be clear now, that Dorsett has finally gotten comfortable after a year in New England.
Dorsett had the luxury of time, given that the Patriots gave up a valuable piece in backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett when they traded for him. Coleman and Fowler were free agents and, judging by the revolving door to the receivers room, they won’t have that luxury.
To stick around, they’ll have to gain Brady’s trust and impress the coaching staff quickly, no small feat in either case.
Brady and the team know they’ll be learning on a steep curve but, when it comes to game performance, they won’t grade that way.