Patriots' Moss-less offense an option play for Brady

191543.jpg

Patriots' Moss-less offense an option play for Brady

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady met with the media as usual this Wednesday before Patriots practice.

Well, it wasn't quite the usual. For the first time in a long time, the quarterback stood in front of his own locker.

"Back home. Right where I belong,'' Brady said. "I feel good about being at my locker. I haven't been at my locker in a while. This is where I'm most comfortable."

The quarterback must make face time with expectant reporters -- it's just the way it goes. Doesn't mean that Randy Moss had to like it, though. Moss's locker, before he was traded back to Minnesota, was right next to Brady's. So every time the media wave rolled in, reporters and videographers and photographers crowded the area to document every word and breath that Brady uttered.

And Moss sometimes got stepped on. It drove the receiver crazy.

This season Brady moved up the line of lockers to give Moss some space. It was a goodwill gesture for a friend. But now that friend is gone and Brady is "back home."

It was an interesting point to make off the bat.

Ever since the report of a supposed confrontation between the QB and the now-moved Moss, there's been speculation on what kind of breakup he had with the team. If people wanted to draw conclusions of bitterness, they might read into the tone Brady set with the locker talk. They might put these comments about the offense under a microscope:

"You throw it to the guy that's open. I think that's what I've always tried to do,'' he said. "A guy like Wes Welker gets open a lot, so he gets the ball a lot. I don't think it's really a concerted effort to make sure everybody's got a catch coming out of a game. I don't think you've got to look to get every eligible skill guy four catches. I think the guys that are gonna get open are going to get the ball."

How can you not think back to the Jets game? Brady did make a concerted effort to get Moss involved in Week 2 and it was a disaster. The wideout caught just two of the passes he was targeted for and two attempts were picked off.

Two weeks later the execution changed. Drastically. Brady looked to Moss just once and they didn't connect. The Patriots' 41-14 win over Miami marked the first time Randy Moss didn't record a reception since November 19, 2006.

He was gone to Minnesota the next day.

Brady made no mention of Moss specifically when talking about the strengths of his remaining offensive arsenal. But he did stress his appreciation for versatility -- a trait that doesn't really describe Randy Moss.

"I don't want to ever feel like I'm out there hamstrung by the guys that are out on the field. The guys out there . . . I think the thing that's great is that they can do some different things,'' he said.

"Wes can do quite a few things as a route runner, so can Deion Branch, so can Brandon Tate, so can Aaron Hernandez, so can Rob Gronkowski, so can Julian Edelman. In certain offenses, 'This guy does this; this guy does this,' and I hear Coach Bill Belichick say those things when he's trying to coach our defense. That's not the kind of offense we want to be."

Was Brady feeling "hamstrung" by Randy Moss? Maybe. There be plenty of rumors swirling around for a while. Just don't ask the quarterback about it.

"I've moved on," Brady said. "We all have. I really don't want to talk about it anymore."

Some other talking points from TB12:

On roster moves impacting the week ahead:
"The roster's always had transition with players getting injured and players moving. I think it's something we're all used to. We put a good day of work in yesterday and I'm excited to see what we do this weekend. We've got a great challenge. I think all of us in this locker room know what kind of a beating we took from these guys last year. So we don't want that to repeat itself. "

On if he has a lasting memory of last season's playoff loss to the Ravens:
"I think we got manhandled by a team that's a damn good team. And I think everything we wanted to do going into the game we didn't do. Penalties, turnovers, couldn't convert on third down, couldn't control the tempo of the game. I've got a lot of respect for these guys; they play really hard, they're very well coached, they've got a physical front. Very emotional team. They play with energy and enthusiasm for what they're doing. You've got to be able to match that because once they get fired up it's tough to calm them down. "

On if that memory gives particular motivation for redemption:
"There's a lot of reasons for motivation and certainly, when a team gives it to you like they did, I think you're always anxious to get out there and play them again. We got a tough road. We're 3-1. We've done some good things this year but, consistently through the course of 60 minutes . . . we haven't put together a full 60-minute game yet and I think that's what it's going to take to get through these guys this week. There's no let-up in this team. There's not one area where there's a real weakness. They stop you, they score points . . . We've got to compete out there."

On how the offense will look:
"I don't care; whatever it takes to get the ball in the end zone. If we hand it off every play, I'm fine with that. We've got to be able to score points and scoring points comes down to executing well no matter what you call -- whether it's a deep throw or a short throw --those are always in the plan. You don't go into the game plan thinking, 'Oh, we're just going to throw a bunch of two-yard passes.' You always try to stretch the field and if we have guys open we're going to take advantage. "

On how will the offense be change without Moss:
"It's hard to say. Deion is here now and he'll probably have some different strengths than Randy. Randy can certainly do things well, but so can other guys. You guys see what they can do well if we can go out there and perform it. "

On whether or not Branch looks the same:
"I don't know. I haven't played with him in a while. He was reliable, consistent, tough, competitive . . . those are all the things that he really was. I wouldn't think he'd forget how to do those things. I think that's what he obviously enjoys. It's good to have him back."

On the "unspoken" connection he and Branch used to share:
"It'll always be there. I've thrown him thousands and thousands of footballs. I think if you pulled Troy Brown out of the announcer booth, or whatever he's doing these days in the media, and put some pads on him and I think I could throw him the football pretty consistently. The relationship I have with Deion on the field has always been a great one. I think there's always been a natural chemistry and I hope we'd be able to rely back on that a little bit. "

On if he felt the connection on Tuesday:
"Yeah. He looked the way he's always looked. He's an excellent player. I was trying to get Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to throw him the ball more, but maybe that was better for us that he didn't." Laughs

On the diversity of the offense:
"I think it's important for all the guys to be able to do different things in the offense and provide different threats so they can't say 'Oh, this guy's only going to catch these kinds of passes.' I think that one thing that's great our offense is that if they're open they're going to get the ball. I think they all know that so, line them up in different spots and see if they can get open. If they can, you throw it to them; if you can't, you go to the next guy. I know one of those guys is going to be open and it's my job to find him."

On whether or not the Patriots offense will be judged differently without Moss by opposing teams:
"I don't know. Go ask the guy in Baltimore and tell me what he says. I really have no idea how they're going to see us or what they're going to try and take away but every defense has its strengths and weaknesses. When you blitz, yeah, you get to the quarterback faster but if you miss a tackle it's a big play. When you do one, you give up the other. And that's the beautiful thing about football; trying to figure out what they're going to do when they're going to do it so you can take advantage."

On what he felt was the reason for the post-trade Moss-bashing:
"I don't know. Honestly, I didn't follow any of it. I know what I said and I wouldn't bash him. I don't think any of our teammates were bashing him. Were you guys bashing him? I wasn't."

On whether or not Moss was a negative influence in the locker room:
"No. Not at all.

"He and I get along great, we always have since the day he got here. He never made fun of my hair. All season everybody's making fun of my hair, but he never has."

On whether or not it was frustrating to initially lose Branch:
"Sure. He was a dynamic player for us in our offense and he really played big in so many big games. We had spent a lot of time together trying to get to know each other and right when we were starting to get all warmed up and lathered up, he got sent to Seattle. It's just kind of the way it's gone. And I think there are certain guys that came in that year that did a great job . . . Like I said, it's good to have him back and hopefully we can do some of those same things that he was doing for us before."

On the evolution of the system since Branch has gone and returned:
"Quite a bit. I said, 'Do you remember a lot?' Branch said 'Yeah, yeah, I got it. I know it.' And I said, 'Okay, what's this?' Branch said 'I don't know that one.' And I said, 'Well, that was one of the ones you should have known because I haven't even gotten to the stuff that you don't know yet.' Laughs I mean, there's a lot of recall. I'm sure it's like learning anything. He's a real smart guy, a real smart player so I don't think it's going to take him too long. Hopefully by Sunday."

On the toughness of Baltimore's defense:
"They create a lot of issues with their different packages and their blitz packages and where they line up. They do try to cause some confusion. We may move around a lot but they move around a lot and sometimes you want to settle yourself down to see what they're doing. And sometimes you're snapping the ball not quite sure if you got everything picked up but you gotta do the best you can do against a defense like this. They're one of the best defenses in the league and they've been that way for a long time."

On whether or not the Ravens defense will look different without Ed Reed:
"Yeah. I'm happy about that."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Patriots host free agents Skuta, Fusco

Patriots host free agents Skuta, Fusco

With no work to do (at this point, at least) ahead of the first round of the NFL draft Thursday, the Patriots are keeping busy with free agents. 

The team reportedly brought in a pair of players for visits Wednesday, with former Jaguars linebacker Dan Skuta and former Vikings offensive lineman Brandon Fusco both making the trip to New England. 

Skuta, 31, was released two seasons into a five-year, $20.5 million contract with the Jaguars. The 6-foot-2, 252-pounder broke into the league as an undrafted free agent with the Bengals in 2009 and has also played for the 49ers. Last season, he totaled 18 tackles with no sacks over 13 games. His career-high in tackles came when he had 40 in 2015; he posted a career-best five sacks with San Francisco in 2014. 

A sixth-round pick in 2011, the 28-year-old Fusco had spent his entire career with the Vikings as a center and guard before being released in February. 

Prototypical Patriots: Hansen's size, elusiveness would be a handful

Prototypical Patriots: Hansen's size, elusiveness would be a handful

The Patriots were pretty well-stocked at receiver in 2016, and position coach Chad O'Shea only picked up one of the most explosive players in the league when Brandin Cooks was dealt by New Orleans to New England this offseason.

Still, we know we can't rule anything out. That's why we're going to take a quick look at a handful of the athletic pass-catchers -- both slots and outside-the-numbers types -- in this year's draft class who look like they could make Tom Brady's life a little easier. 

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

Zay Jones, East Carolina, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds: One of the best receiver prospects in this year's class, Jones' performance at the Senior Bowl should put to rest any concerns that he simply beat up on lower-level competition when he went off for 158 catches and 1,746 yards and eight scores last season. He has the size and athleticism (4.45-second 40-yard dash, 36.5-inch vertical, 133-inch broad jump) to play on the outside, but his quickness would allow him to thrive in the slot as well (4.01-second 20-yard shuttle, 11.17-second 60-yard shuttle). That kind of versatility would make him an ideal fit in New England but he's almost guaranteed to be gone by the time the second round rolls around. 

Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington, 6-foot-2, 204 pounds: Kupp's long speed (4.62-second 40) may limit him to slot work in the NFL, but that's fine. His ability to run routes is among the best in the draft class, and he showed an uncanny ability to separate even against superior athletes with Washington (8 catches, 145 yards, 3 touchdowns in 2014), Oregon (15 catches, 246 yards, 3 touchdowns in 2015) and at this year's Senior Bowl. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola won't play forever, and if the Patriots are looking for their slot of the future Kupp would be a good match. 

Chad Hansen, Cal, 6-foot-2, 202 pounds: In terms of his experience running a variety of routes, Hansen is more like an Antithetical Patriot. He aligned almost exclusively out wide and on the right side of Cal's formations, and according to Pro Football Focus 73.6 percent of his targets came on screens (where he was surprisingly elusive after the catch in one-on-one situations), hitches and go routes. Though his numbers at the combine were relatively pedestrian, he's quick for his size (6.74-second three-cone drill, 4.13-second short shuttle) and he plays faster than the numbers would indicate. Plus, he's one of the most coordinated outside receivers in the class. He's excellent at using his frame to high-point passes along the sidelines, and he has good awareness to get his feet down in-bounds. With plenty of room to grow after just one season as a starter with the Bears (he transferred from Idaho State after spending the 2013 season there), Hansen is the kind of work-in-progress prospect who could blossom with a year of seasoning in New England. 

Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky, 5-foot-11, 203 pounds: Though his timed speed was nothing to write home about (4.5-second 40), Taylor is another player who seemed to play faster than the numbers would indicate. Even if his speed doesn't totally translate from Conference USA to the NFL, which it very well may not, his shiftiness should allow him to create separation at the next level. He ran a 6.57-second three-cone drill, a 4.21-second short shuttle, and he looks like a middle-round selection who could figure into a slot role with the Patriots.

ArDarius Stewart, Alabama, 5-foot-11, 204 pounds: A nice recommendation from Nick Saban wouldn't hurt, but even if Stewart didn't play under Bill Belichick's good friend he'd be featured in this space. Fast enough (4.49-second 40), explosive enough (34-inch vertical, 124-inch broad jump), competitive and physical, Stewart looks like the kind of versatile option that the Patriots could align just about anywhere depending on the matchups. He's a polished route-runner who can beat corners with his hands or head-fakes, and when attacking contested passes he has the balance to hold his own at the moment of truth. An effective blocker -- key in the Patriots system -- and a potential kick-return option, there's not much to nit-pick about his fit in Foxboro. The only questions are a) can the Patriots find room for him? And b) does he fall far enough to land in their laps? NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to Chris Hogan.

Mack Hollins, North Carolina, 6-foot-4, 221 pounds: If you're looking for big-time college production, Hollins probably isn't your guy. Still, his size (33-inch arms, 10.5-inch hands) and explosiveness (120-inch broad jump) give him big-play potential in the NFL. He had 20 touchdowns on 71 touches for the Tar Heels. As far as the Patriots are concerned, what might make Hollins worthy of a mid-to-late round pick is that he was a four-year special teams captain and will provide immediate help on punt and kickoff units.