FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady threw for a team-record 517 yards in the New England Patriots opener last year.
When they begin this season on Sunday at Tennessee, the offense will have several different starters from that 38-24 win over Miami.
But it still has Brady. And Josh McDaniels, who has returned to the offensive coordinator’s job he held from 2006-08, sees improvement in his star quarterback.
“I think Tom has gotten better every year,” McDaniels said Tuesday. “It’s a great example for our younger players to see how he goes about trying to prepare for this opening game. I see a guy that’s determined, that’s working extremely hard, that wants to play his best football, and he’s trying to do everything that he can to make sure that happens this year.”
Brady was pretty good last season.
He threw for 5,235 yards, second most in NFL history. His 39 touchdown passes were fourth in the NFL. He led the Patriots to a 13-3 record and the Super Bowl, where they lost to the New York Giants 21-17 on a last-minute touchdown.
This season, they have Brandon Lloyd, the deep threat they lacked.
Second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen should play bigger roles now that BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who lacked their elusiveness, has left for Cincinnati.
And the tight-end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez already is the best in the league after just two seasons.
But the offensive line is a question mark.
Left tackle Matt Light retired and his replacement, Nate Solder, has been inconsistent. Right guard Brian Waters hasn’t reported after an outstanding season with the Patriots, and coach Bill Belichick has repeatedly declined to update his status.
“I’m just talking about the guys that are here,” he said.
The Patriots loaded up on free agent wide receivers in the offseason when they signed Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Donte’ Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez. All but Lloyd have been released. Deion Branch, who started all 18 games he played last season — including three in the postseason — also was cut.
That leaves Lloyd and Wes Welker as the only proven receivers, although Hernandez sometimes lines up in that spot.
“We have plenty of players that can make a contribution on offense,” McDaniels said. “Hopefully, every skill player that plays in the game has an opportunity to make some plays for us, whether that be in the backfield or tight end or at the receivers position.
“We’ve played with a lot of different variations, a lot of different numbers at certain positions over the course of time and the guys we’ve got now, we feel good about and are excited to use them on Sunday.”
Greg Salas could be one of them.
The second-year wide receiver was acquired for an undisclosed future draft choice on Saturday from the St. Louis Rams, where he played while McDaniels was the offensive coordinator.
“Greg played a lot (of) inside (receiver) in college, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t play multiple positions,” McDaniels said. “For the most part, we ask all of our skill players to learn multiple roles and I don’t think that will be any different for Greg.”
The Titans allowed the eighth fewest points in the NFL and went 9-7 last season but missed a wild-card playoff berth on a tiebreaker. In this preseason, they gave up the fewest points in the AFC, 16.8 per game, and led the league with eight interceptions after managing just 13 all last season.
They added free agent Kamerion Wimbley to help a pass rush that had only 28 sacks last year, the second fewest in the NFL. They still have second-year middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, a good pass defender, and safety Michael Griffin, who was designated a franchise player.
“They’ve got some really good players at all three levels of their defense,” McDaniels said.
Griffin, entering his sixth season, is a key to the secondary.
“He’s smart. He anticipates things well, route combinations and things like that,” Belichick said. “Sometimes he’s back. Sometimes he’s close to the line. He’ll do both and has done both from either (safety) spot. You never know exactly where he’s going to be.”
It will be Brady’s job to figure that out.
“He studies and prepares so well for each team,” McDaniels said, “and puts in so much hard work and does a great job of demonstrating how to get ready for each game.”