He usually makes the Weis call
Offensive coordinator aims to repeat success
By Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff, 09/01/00
FOXBOROUGH - In 1994, he coached Ben Coates. Result: 96 catches, the NFL record for a tight end. In 1995, he coached Curtis Martin. Result: 1,487 rushing yards, the Patriots' record. In 1996, he coached Terry Glenn: Result: 90 receptions, an NFL rookie record.
A few years have gone by, and Charlie Weis is now running the offense in New England.
If there's magic in Weis's handling of players, the Patriots want stardust sprinkled over Drew Bledsoe in the 2000 season. Weis's offense certainly is somewhat familiar to Bledsoe, because parts of it derive from the playbook of Ray Perkins, the coordinator during part of Weis's time as a positional coach. But over the past couple of seasons, which he spent as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, Weis has added a few things, including a bevy of trick plays to be used if the offense sputters.
``Some of the things are the same as the old offense, though the terminology has changed and things have been added,'' said Bledsoe. ``But it's an offense I'm comfortable in. Because Charlie was here before, there's a comfort level with what he's trying to do. I understand. It's not like starting completely over in a completely different system.''
That is a welcome change for the quarterback.
Two seasons ago, when Ernie Zampese became coordinator, Bledsoe had to learn a radically different offense. Zampese's system relies on timed passing routes that require the quarterback to throw the ball when his receiver is making his break. At first, Bledsoe liked the system, but by the second half of the season his protection had broken down, his running game was nonexistent, and it was left to him to do it all on his own. The quarterback was swallowed up.
Weis wants his quarterback to be more comfortable than that. Not the type of coordinator who pushes his philosophy, Weis simply presents his plays and how he wants them run. When he got his four quarterbacks together in the offseason, he asked each to point out plays in the playbook that they thought they'd prefer to run. In a quarterback camp, Weis had each call his own plays while running the offense. Each quarterback, naturally, gravitated to plays he felt most comfortable with.
``You can't force a player to do something he can't do or doesn't want to do. It won't work,'' said Weis. ``The player has to be comfortable with the call. If you make a QB do what he can't do, you might have a fumble or an interception or a turnover that could mean the difference between winning and losing a game.''
Weis was part of the offensive coaching staff in 1996, when the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl. Balance was the key to that offense. Glenn was superb, Coates caught 62 passes, and Shawn Jefferson (50 receptions) opened up space for the passing game by taking cornerbacks and safeties downfield. Martin ran well (1,152 yards) and caught a lot of passes (46) out of the backfield, with Sam Gash smash-mouthing opponents (until he was hurt) and the line was blocking well. What a thing.
The '98 Jets, with Weis in his first season as offensive corrdinator, achieved the same balance with Vinny Testaverde, Martin, Keyshawn Johnson, Wayne Chrebet, and a decent tight end, Kyle Brady.
Weis remembers Thursday and Friday sessions in which he and quarterbacks coach Dan Henning would go over the game plan with Testaverde, who would have the option of throwing out certain plays. ``We'd throw out 10-15 plays a week,'' said Weis. ``If Vinny didn't feel comfortable with it, it was gone, because if you run it, something bad always happens.''
Weis understands that he can call the most creative plays in the world, but if each unit within the offense isn't taking care of business, it all will break down. If the quarterback, in particular, doesn't believe in the play, it won't be executed properly. That might have contributed to Bledsoe's ineffectiveness during the second half of last season.
Suiting plays to your quarterback isn't a new idea. Most coordinators attempt to make their quarterback comfortable. And Weis contends that as a quarterback gets more comfortable within a system, his repertoire grows. Once a quarterback is comfortable with 12 plays, and there's positive feedback, he will want new challenges, perhaps taking on plays that he once shied away from. Obviously, Bledsoe never will run the option like Michael Bishop does, but he may, in time, feel better about rolling out and throwing on the run.
That confidence also grows as the quarterback comes to believe he can drop back to pass and not get hammered every time. Weis understands this. He knows Testaverde went through that confidence struggle early in his career, in Cleveland and Tampa Bay, and it gave him a mind-set he had to overcome when he arrived in New York.
But once his line kept him protected, Testaverde showed all of the things he does so well.
One of the first things Weis said when he took the offensive coordinator's job in Foxborough was, ``Vinny had come from a situation where he had been exposed a lot and hit a lot. It's important that we don't allow that to happen this year to Drew.''
Weis knew full well that it had happened to Bledsoe last season. What he saw - though he didn't say it - was a quarterback who had almost come to accept that on most occasions he would be getting hit, either after he threw the ball, while he was throwing, or before he could get rid of the ball. Weis understood how much that can change the performance level of a quarterback, even one like Bledsoe, who had reached Pro Bowls and had thrown for an ungodly number of yards for someone his age.
In terms of offensive philosophy, Bledsoe is back to a more stable environment. That has to be a mental boost. Then again, it could be negated if the Patriots continue their experiment of yanking Bledsoe for Bishop in goal-line situations. Quarterbacks want to score points.
But Weis understands this. Which is why Bledsoe will be the one running the offense, even in tough spots. And only if he shows he can't get the ball into the end zone will you see Bishop.
``The whole thing is about winning the game,'' said Weis. ``Whatever allows us to win the game the best way, we'll do it.''