By now, you’re no doubt familiar with all the change that’s happened in New England. Tom Brady’s top five receivers from last season won’t be on the field in Week 1. Only one of them—Rob Gronkowski—even has a chance of catching a pass from Brady in 2013. Tim Tebow is in Foxboro—for now. The idea of the “Patriot Way” is no more. And that’s just the beginning of the list.
So, where does New England stand this season? What do those who know Bill Belichick and the Patriots best think about the team’s prospects? We asked NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest, a two-time Pro Bowler and a member of New England’s 2001, ’03 and ’04 Super Bowl teams. Below are his thoughts, as told to us at an NFL Network event earlier this week.
You know, over the years, the Patriots have been great at adapting and changing and transitioning—putting all their attention into the guys that they have on their roster, and not those who aren’t there. A lot of times when I was in that locker room, we would have to find ways to motivate ourselves, whether it was somebody saying we weren’t good enough to play against a team, or beat a team, or that we didn’t have enough star power in our locker room.
So, I think right now, if I could say the angle that Bill Belichick is taking, it’s probably something along the lines of, “Hey, everyone is saying you guys are done, and that you guys should just throw in the towel, and that it’s over, and that this guy’s not here and this guy’s not here—that we might as well pack it up and just go home.” I’ve heard that speech from him before, and it’s a challenge. To the coaching staff, to the players, and to the organization, and it allows them to all come out and play with a chip on their shoulder. And, because of the system, and because of the continuity of having certain players and coaches in the system, you can never count them out.
The offense is definitely going to look different this season, but I think it’s still going to be very effective. The two-tight end thing was just something the Patriots did when they had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and it worked. But this year, I expect the Pats to run the ball. Let’s remember, they ran the ball the 47 percent of the time last year, and averaged 136 rushing yards a game, so they’re a really good running team—because they have Tom Brady we don’t talk about their running game enough. So I think we’ll see a lot of what they did in the first pre-season game against Philadelphia, where they came out and ran the ball down the field for a touchdown.
I also think we’ll see a connection between Tom Brady and his new receivers. I think it’s going to be Danny Amendola if he stays healthy—it’s already looking like him and Brady have been playing together for years. We’ll also see Gronkowski get healthy and come back, and we’ll see somebody else—whether it’s a younger player or a veteran player—pretty much step into a role and become significant to that offense. I also think we’ll see a no-name guy make a name for himself, too.
Bill Belichick is not your typical coach—he’s a different personality. He’s a football guy and a coach, but he’s also a teacher, an educator and a friend. He’s has a great personality. He knows how to push buttons and motivate guys and a team. —Willie McGinest
As told to Yaron Weitzman, Associate Editor for TDdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.