FOXBORO -- It didn't take long for Antonio Brown's athletic gifts to avail themselves during his first game as a member of the Patriots. His craftiness off the line of scrimmage, his speed to threaten deep or to win the edge as a jet-motion runner, he ability to win contested catches. They were all apparent in his first go-round with Tom Brady.
As of now, he's still eligible to play against the Jets in Week 3, and he's expected to be on the practice field Wednesday afternoon to prep for his second game under Bill Belichick.
With three more practices to hone his connection with his quarterback and to further develop his overall understanding of the Patriots offense, Brown might also now have enough time for Josh McDaniels to design something particularly for him -- something that had he and his physical skills never landed on the doorstep at One Patriot Place never would've become part of the Patriots offensive equation in 2019.
Belichick acknowledged that there are things the Patriots can do to take advantage of Brown's skill set. But there are things to consider. First is time. How much practice time does the team really want to devote to a new play for a new player? Second is payoff. If they're going to spend time on it, it better be worthwhile.
"Yeah, sure," Belichick said when asked about adding things into the playbook for Brown. "There's things we can utilize him for, or Josh, or anybody else. It's just a question of volume and time and reps. You can't put in 20 new plays. If you have, call it, 90 plays in practice over the course of the week, you can't put in 20 plays and expect to be able to rep those and get 'em right and then do all the other things you have to do.
"You have to be selective. If you want to put in something new, how much time can you allocate to it? How much are you going to use it? How effective is it going to be? Do you really want to put in a play that's going to gain five yards and waste 10 percent of your practice reps during the week on that? I don't know. I'd rather work on a play that's going to gain 50 yards. You just have to decide how you want to do it."
The Patriots, of course, are already owners of one of the most complex offenses in football. It has been developed over the course of the last two decades with Brady at quarterback, Belichick running the overall operation, and McDaniels in-house for the vast majority of those years.
But part of what makes the Patriots offense so dangerous on an annual basis is not only its breadth but its ability to adapt. Whether it's adjusting mid-season to emphasize an old-school running attack, taking advantage of the rule book to toy with the concept of eligible receivers, or exploiting the individual skills of players who come and go over the years, the triumvirate of Belichick, Brady and McDaniels are anything but stuck in their ways.
They could continue to add to their missile-motion concepts with a speed threat like Brown in the mix. (Brown had one end-around carry for five yards last week in Miami and was used as a diversion on another play that gained Sony Michel 10 yards.)
They could turn to more passing concepts that highlight the vertical passing game. Something as simple as a four-verticals concept is not something you see the Patriots utilize very often because their personnel hasn't been exactly rife with speed demons. But now with Brown, Gordon and Phillip Dorsett in the mix, that could be the type of play that stresses deep safeties and leaves a down-the-field threat in single coverage.
They could also further emphasize their middle-of-the-field attack with Brown in the fold. With opposing defenses focused on limiting Brown and Gordon's explosive abilities on the outside, then perhaps the area of the field that has always been Brady's bread-and-butter zone -- the short-to-intermediate area between the numbers -- sees even more attention as defenses are no longer able to flood the middle with defensive backs to stop the likes of Julian Edelman and James White.
But the Patriots are also aware of the downsides of trying to get creative. If, for instance, they want to add to their playbook because they have a talent at the receiver position unlike any they've had since Randy Moss then that's fine. But they have to be efficient about it.
"Can you expand it? Sure," Belichick said. "But it's not infinite. We're not in training camp. We've gotta get ready for a game. There are other considerations with other parts of the team, other players on the team. We just have to try to balance all that out. I'm sure each week we can add a little more with new players whether it be with [Marshall] Newhouse or Korey [Cunningham] or Antonio or Josh or Matt LaCosse -- there's another guy who hasn't played very much football -- all those guys as they get worked back into the offensive flow. Yeah. But it's not limitless."
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