After seven weeks of voluntary off-season training, the New England Patriots ramped up their intensity on Tuesday: The team conducted the first of three mandatory drills at small camps, with all but a few players on the current roster. While the session still follows regular out-of-season rules – ie no full contact, no podiums – it was the closest “normal” football you’ll have at this time of year.
With that being said, let’s take a look at what happened courtesy of Keagan Stiefel by Pats Pulpit and other reporters present at the two-hour session.
absent: WR Kendrick Bourne, DT Byron Cowart, K Nick Folk, K Quinn Nordin, OL Andrew Stueber
Limited: OT Trent Brown, TE Hunter Henry, CB Marcus Jones, WR Jacoby Myers, RB James White
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before the session that the squad included a handful of exempt players, and that five of the 85 players on contract as of Tuesday morning had not actually been spotted. Kendrick Bourne is the biggest name on the absentee list, but the belief is that he might be back as soon as this week (According to Doug Kaede, Pro Football Focus). Either way, the situation doesn’t seem to be cause for concern.
As for the limited players, rookie cornerback Marcus Jones wore a red jersey. The other four players mentioned above haven’t had all the training but the team seems to be playing it safer than anything else.
Mac Jones offers: Casual workouts should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but it’s hard not to feel complacent about starting the Patriots quarterback after Tuesday’s workout. The sophomore man has been an amazing sophomore, after all, and arguably put in an impressive training since joining the team in the first round of the draft pick last spring. In team drills – i.e. 7v7 and 11v11 – complete 25 of 26 pass attempts, such as Drawn by Mark Daniels of Providence Newspaper.
Jones had the best showing of the day, when he hit sophomore Trey Nixon wide in a deep pass down the field. He also threw some great passes to run back JJ Taylor and a tight finish for Juno Smith beating the tight coverage. Later, Jones reached out to DeVante Parker in a deep feat on Jalen Mills.
As for the other midfielders, they were relatively calm. Brain Hoyer went 7 for 13 with an interception, while rookie Bailey Zappe finished a base streak 7 for 11 with a pick as well.
Isaiah Wayne returns… in correct handling: With small camp being a mandatory event, the Patriots have seen the return of many previously absent players. Among them was the offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, who lined up in a somewhat unusual position: the team’s left tackle in the past three years has played on the right end of the line; Meanwhile, the left entry point was initially managed by Yodny Cajuste and later Trent Brown for the remainder of the session.
Matt Patricia is driving the crime, sort of: Once again, the Patriots offense was led by head coach Bill Belichick and his assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. With Belichick spending time with defense units and special teams as well, it appears Patricia is taking on a key role not only with the linebackers but with passing on information to Mac Jones as well.
However, Belichick made sure to give Jones some hands-on training as well:
Tre Nixon sees plenty of opportunities with Kendrick Bourne out: With Kendrick Bourne absent at the junior level for undisclosed reasons, the Patriots gave future sophomore Tre Nixon some extended time with the starting level attack. He responded by making the catch of the day on Jonathan Jones; Nixon was able to make a step on the back corner and made a jump reception from 40 yards down the sideline.
The 2021 seventh-round draft pick did all of that while the man responsible for drafting it was present. Former Patriots research director Ernie Adams, who picked Nixon, watched the session from the sidelines.
N’Keal Harry continues to go in the wrong direction: Previously selected in the first round, N’Keal Harry was another player who has returned to training after previously not attending during volunteer drills. Unlike others like Isaiah Wayne and linebacker Matthew Godon, he’s played a small role. He spent most of the day with the third series unit led by Bailey Zappe, and saw only one goal in the team’s drill from Mac Jones – an incompleteness hit by Jalen Mills.
Matthew Godon sees some action off the ball: The Patriots primarily used Godon as a forward defender on the line of scrimmage during his first year with the team. On Tuesday, however, he spent time with the group off the ball as well. Of course, it’s a good time to try things out, but Godon’s vision of more action elsewhere would be consistent with the team’s approach to diversity teaching.
As for the other linebackers, a few of them also stood out on Tuesday. Outstanding defenders Josh O’Shea and Ronnie Perkins allied with the defensive line most of the time, while Jhelani Taffey and Cameron McGrone managed to get their hands on the ball during the team’s drill: rookie QB Tafaye intercepted Billy Zappy, while McGroni’s Brian Hoyer broke through to Hoyer’s pass.
Jake Bailey has a leg up in the Punting Contest: As spotted by Alex Barth of The Sports Hub, the fight between two gambler Patriots went to the incumbent. Not only did Jake Bailey receive more chances than rookie Jake Julien, but he also posted a better public comment time. While Julian didn’t have a single kick out of five plus hangs, Billy had four of them.
New England uses several gambling revenue: Three players on the other end of the Punctuation game were used, According to Zack Cox of NESN, all of them defensive linebackers: Kyle Duger, Miles Bryant and rookie Jack Jones (who had a muff). After training, wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Malcolm Perry also did some work in the punctuating division alongside rookie cornerback Marcus Jones.
The tamper breaks out late during the session: Even though contact was strictly forbidden, the players did get close to each other at some point. After a pass by Terrance Mitchell disintegrated on Nelson Agholor, rookie offensive lineman Cole String jumped over the legs of linebacker Matthew Goodon to recover a potential stumble. The New England defense as a whole ruled out the play and went on verbally after Strange.
The Patriots will return to the training grounds behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday for their mini-camp session 2. Once again, training is scheduled to begin at 11:45 p.m. ET and is expected to last about two hours.