FOXBOROUGH -- One thing came through clearly when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels answered questions from reporters on Monday afternoon: Don’t pigeonhole the team's offense into one area.
It had been easier to do that at this time last year.
The Patriots, coming off a 2011 season in which the combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez created on-field havoc, were a lethal two-tight end offense. The plans were to continue in that direction after extending the contracts of Gronkowski (2019) and Hernandez (2018).
But those have obviously been altered (they also were during the 2012 regular season when both tight ends were sidelined with injuries at various points) and McDaniels left the door open that what we see from the Patriots’ attack in 2013 could be altogether different.
“Our offense has never been the same two years in a row, really. The system hopefully is broad enough that we can use the skills that our players have to the best of their ability. We’ve had to do it a lot of different ways over the course of time and whatever that way is [this year], we’re not real sure yet,” McDaniels said. “It will develop over the course of the next month, and that will be continuing as the season progresses.”
With Gronkowski and Hernandez in 2011, the Patriots ran more than 80 percent of their offensive snaps with two or more tight ends on the field, according to ESPNBoston tracking. That number dipped to around 50 percent last season because of injuries to Gronkowski and Hernandez, as the club relied more on a three-receiver set.
If the Patriots are to do the same thing this year, the development of rookie receivers will be crucial.
“We’ve had years where the tight ends recently had been a really big part of our pass offense [and] we’ve had years where our tight ends weren’t a focal point of the offense," McDaniels said. "That’s why I hope the offense has enough versatility and flexibility built within it so that we can do what we need to do to win with the players we have."