FOXBOROUGH — When the Patriots lost receivers coach Chad O’Shea to the Dolphins, who hired him as offensive coordinator this offseason, it seemed at first like they might be stretching their staff a little thin trying to make up for that departure.
Joe Judge, special teams coach from 2012-18, is now coaching special teams and receivers, which is a lot of responsibility for one assistant.
When training camp started, though, there was Troy Brown, helping out coaching the receivers and providing an extra set of eyes. Now that the regular season is here, it sounds as if Brown will continue helping out, even if coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday that he wasn’t exactly sure what Brown’s role would be.
“Troy has always been a smart, hard-working guy that puts the team first, will do whatever he can to help. I’m sure going forward he’ll help us in any way he can,” Belichick said. “We’ll see exactly what that amounts to. I’m not sure at this point.”
Even if that doesn’t include a formal role on the coaching staff — Brown is not listed as a coach in the media guide — he’ll still be an available resource. But it wouldn’t be a shock if Brown became a coach soon. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Brown has put himself on that path.
“He continues to work with any of the guys in the receiving room or the punt returners or that sort of thing. He’s really helping our staff. I really love having him here,” McDaniels said. “He was such a great influence on our team when he was a player, and he’s extended that now as he’s starting his career in this crazy profession called coaching.”
Brown, who retired in 2007 after a 15-year career with the Patriots, was on the field and in the film room with Patriots receivers during training camp. He’s done media work, speaking engagements, and written a book since his retirement, but this would be his first foray into coaching.
Patriots receivers spoke highly of him and his teaching abilities throughout the summer. Brown, who was also an excellent punt returner, could also be valuable if the Patriots want to develop some younger players in that role to save Julian Edelman some wear and tear.
“He played this game and he played here,” said McDaniels. “He was coached by our staff and in our style, so the value he brings is significant. I’m really happy to have him here, and every role that he’s been asked to fill in this regard, he’s jumped at the chance.”
Obi Melifonwu seemed to be a player on the roster bubble, but Belichick sounded as if he is very high on the third-year safety, who he expects to contribute a lot more this year.
“Obi has a lot of skill and he’s gained more understanding of our defense,” Belichick said. “He has the physical ability to be a versatile player, but last year that didn’t manifest itself because he came in during the middle of the season and just didn’t have as good a base or background as what he really needed to realize that versatility. So, I think this year he’s a lot further along there and has a lot more value to our team and our defense because of the number of things he can do.”
Melifonwu, a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2017, is a great athlete who, as Belichick said, brings versatility on defense and plays on special teams. He’s played only 10 games (including playoffs) over two NFL seasons, though, and only three of a possible 10 for the Patriots last season after being signed in November.
According to Belichick, Melifonwu just wasn’t up to speed then, but is now.
The Patriots had the option to use an international exemption on German fullback Jakob Johnson that would have allowed them to keep him as an 11th member of their practice squad, but they chose not to.
Instead, they kept Johnson as a regular member of their 10-man practice squad, meaning they can call him up to the 53-man roster if they choose. Had the Patriots used the exemption on Johnson, they would not have been able to call him up.
Johnson — coaches call him “Jak” with a soft J — earned that spot with a good work ethic and competitive spirit, according to McDaniels.
“I think there’s nothing more you can ask of each player than to give your best and be ready to go when your number’s called. I think Jak’s done that and I look forward to continuing to work with him,” McDaniels said.
Belichick didn’t want to go into detail on whether the Patriots might have been able to trade quarterback Brian Hoyer instead of releasing him, but said, “I think there’s a lot of things involved with that situation. That’d be a longer conversation. We did what we did. We’ll stand by that.” . . . The referee for Sunday night’s opener against the Steelers will be Clete Blakeman.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com.