He’s the proverbial kid in the candy store. The cat that ate the canary. All of those popular expressions apply to Josh McDaniels, because of late, there’s been a noticeable bounce in his step.
Let’s just say there’s something about change that can be invigorating.
Tom Brady is feeling it in Tampa Bay, away from a football team he won six championships with, but he’s not alone.
McDaniels, his former coordinator, and master of X’s and O’s on the offensive side, is also finding joy and benefit in tackling something new.
He’s applying his genius to a completely different style of quarterback than Brady. He’s thinking about plays he could have never imagined using with the GOAT under center.
And, admittedly, he’s having a lot of fun in the process working with Newton, and figuring out the best way to take advantage of his new toy.
“I’m going through it with an open mind, allowing the players to have opportunities to do a lot of different things,” McDaniels said earlier this week during a video conference call.
The curiosity level for what McDaniels may or may not have up his sleeve seems to be growing by the minute. Maybe that’s why he’s been wearing an impish grin on his face of late.
Offensive coordinators love to be cloaked in mystery. They love being the source of so much intrigue.
Because right now, McDaniels is like a mad scientist in a laboratory, feverishly designing plays that will enhance the skills and talent of Newton and make him shine.
A sprinkle of read-option here, a pinch of designed quarterback runs there, and voila, the Patriots have an offense more suited to Newton’s skill set, and completely different than what everyone was accustomed to seeing the past two decades.
McDaniels is relishing this chance to show off his chops without Brady, and enhance his resume for future head coaching opportunities.
While most are looking at Bill Belichick and Newton as the primary protagonists for the Patriots success in 2020, the significance of McDaniels shouldn’t be lost.
He holds the keys to the Patriots offense and Newton’s fate. He has to find a way to make it work for Newton, with an unproven receiving corps outside of Julian Edelman, and a young and untested tight end room.
While there’s pressure on Newton to perform, there’s also pressure on McDaniels to deliver a successful plan with a less-than star-studded cast.
“I think everyone is kind of curious,” Patriots Hall of Fame safety Rodney Harrison said, speaking with the Herald Thursday. “You have Cam, which is good and fine. But I’m wondering what are they going to do outside of Edelman in the passing game? Who else do they have? You still need really good players running and catching the ball.”
Count on the running backs to pick up the slack. Newton had no trouble hitting Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris and James White during training camp. Newton’s mobility alone opens up lanes for receivers, and McDaniels will take advantage of that mobility along with a stout offensive line to open holes for a run-heavy offense.
Is it likely McDaniels will call plays mindful of Newton’s vast injury history? Sure. But that won’t necessarily limit him.
Asked if he might have Newton on a pitch-count in terms of how much he runs, trying to keep him healthy for the long haul, McDaniels was somewhat amused by the question.
“We’ve never had that question needed to be answered,” McDaniels said, chuckling at the thought. “We’ll be smart with a lot of those different things, especially early in the season.”
The 31-year-old quarterback, who has had four surgeries in the past six years, has looked healthy, and for now, that’s enough to keep McDaniels’ juices flowing for crafting a creative offensive plan.
Newton sounds like he’s ready for anything, and welcomes whatever McDaniels puts on his plate. During a media session Thursday, Newton said he and McDaniels have been “hip-to-hip” working on his acclimation to the offense, and the quarterback feels comfortable enough he’ll be able to execute the game plan.
Newton indicated having the opportunity to work with McDaniels was a factor in his decision to come to Foxboro. He’s long been impressed by the offensive coordinator’s resume, and now adds his ability to teach having seen it first-hand.
“You’re just blown away by his almanac of players,” said Newton. “But at the same time, he makes it relatable so you can learn it in your own way.”
No doubt McDaniels will want the defense to have to account for Newton on every play, which is significant. After that, it’s a matter of seeing how well Newton operates with a short passing game, as well as the odd play downfield where he’ll be asked to air it out on occasion.
We’ll start to get some answers about the offensive scheme come Sunday, when the Patriots open the season against the Dolphins. We’ll finally get our first look at McDaniels’ creation. While he’s not likely to completely tip his hand for future opponents, there will be plenty of clues.
For his part, Newton is fully on board, and “excited” to show what McDaniels has cooked up.
“I’m in a happy place, I feel motivated,” said Newton. “I like it most that I’m just a piece to a puzzle. I don’t want to be the puzzle. I try my best daily to prove my worth to this team and understand there are a lot of guys here who are depending on each other, and I want to be a person the team and these coaches can trust and depend on.”
We’ll see what the mad scientist ultimately has cooked up for Newton.