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FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots wrapped up mandatory minicamp with a brisk one hour and 20-minute session behind Gillette Stadium on Thursday.
The practice format was similar to the first two days with periods for positional drills, special teams, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 team drills.
Bill Belichick’s practices serve as a reminder that it’s never too early for situational football and even pumping loud music to simulate crowd noise in a June minicamp.
Joining the absent group of Sony Michel, Patrick Chung, Deatrich Wise, Nate Ebner, Yodny Cajuste and Demaryius Thomas was cornerback JC Jackson on Thursday.
Jackson participated in practice on the first two days but was not on the field for day three.
Here are seven observations from the final day of minicamp, including Tom Brady’s first media availability of the 2019 season:
1. Tom Brady Speaks on Contract and Future
Brady spoke to the media for the first time this season for about ten minutes after Thursday’s practice. The six-time Super Bowl champion was asked about his contract situation, playing until 45, N’Keal Harry’s development and the loss of Rob Gronkowski. On his contract, which is set to expire at the end of the season, Brady said with a smile, “that’s none of your business.” Brady went on to say that the plan is to play until he’s 45 still and that the contract stuff will work itself out but acknowledged that it’s a contact sport.
2. Brady and N’Keal Harry’s Individual Side Sessions
All week long, Brady has worked individually with rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry. Today, Harry worked one-on-one with Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady spoke highly of Harry’s work ethic after practice but admitted that it’s a work in progress, which was obvious watching practice this week. The two didn’t connect much in team drills (Brady was 3-6 throwing to Harry) and had some mixups even against air during Thursday’s side session. Harry wasn’t overly impressive this week. The knock on Harry as a prospect was that he struggles to create separation, and that was the case this week during team drills. However, he’s the type of player that shines when you put the pads on due to his imposing physical tools. We’ll reserve judgment until training camp.
3. Rookie Jarrett Stidham Ahead of Danny Etling
As you’d expect, fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham took all of the third-team reps at quarterback over Etling this week. In fact, Etling didn’t attempt a single pass during team drills today. Stidham still looks like he’s just trying to tread water as he learns a new offense in New England; the Patriots offense could not be more different than what the rookie ran at Auburn. For Etling, he could wind up back on the practice squad, but he’s not doing much with all the reps going to Brady, Hoyer and Stidham.
4. Defensive Grouping Emerges During Team Drills
In other playing time news, there was a definite top group on defense that emerged this week during team drills, especially in the secondary. The “first-team” defense in seven-on-sevens most of the week consisted of Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley at linebacker, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jon Jones and Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon at safety. We’ll see how things change when Patrick Chung returns to practice.
5. Radar Guns, Video Cameras and Wet Balls
During warmups and positional drills, the Patriots had some props on the field to make things interesting. While the quarterbacks threw warmup tosses, a coach stood behind the intended receiver with a radar gun, and the quarterbacks had a friendly competition to see who could throw the ball the fastest that was won by Brian Hoyer. Later on, coaches were videotaping Tom Brady’s throws so that the quarterback could study his mechanics on film. And then there were the wet balls. Multiple times this week the Patriots dunked the footballs in water jugs forcing their offensive players to handle a wet ball. The attention to detail at Pats practice is second to none.
6. Three Stats of Minicamp: Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris and Duke Dawson
After observing practice over the last three days, here are three players that stood out above the rest:
Berrios – the second-year wideout is taking a rookie approach to the summer with no guarantee of a roster spot, and he’s off to a great start. Berrios got open consistently in team drills and caught just about everything thrown in his direction. His route running has improved from training camp a year ago, and he’s starting to use his shiftiness to shake free of defensive backs. We’ll see if he can build on a strong minicamp once there’s contact in training camp.
Harris – probably the biggest surprise of minicamp was how quickly Maurice Harris has ascended over the last couple of weeks. Harris flashed terrific hands and body control and has a natural feel for making plays. He has also moved all around the formation lining up on the outside, in the slot and is practicing as a flanker to come in motion on things like jet sweeps and other packaged plays. Harris caught a deep ball from Tom Brady on a flea-flicker on Thursday.
Dawson – Dawson is trying to prove a lot to both himself and those on the outside this season. The Florida product missed most of his rookie season with a hamstring injury, the first time he has missed significant time in his football career. Some have already given up on Dawson, but he looked comfortable playing out of the slot and made three pretty pass breakups in coverage. He was seldom caught out of position and competed hard, and his coaches and teammates took notice. The Patriots have a loaded cornerback group, but the team did select Dawson 56th overall a year ago. He is far from an afterthought.
7. Play of the Day: Phillip Dorsett’s Touchdown Over Joejuan Williams
The play of the day goes to Phillip Dorsett who climbed the back of rookie corner Joejuan Williams to haul in a touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. The five-foot-ten Dorsett used the much taller Williams as a step stool to go up and snag the high pass. Dorsett is squarely in the mix at wide receiver and was in the top three that included Julian Edelman and Maurice Harris for most of the week. Williams had some struggles this week as he tries to get a grasp for the Patriots defense, which isn’t a surprise for a young player.