PHILADELPHIA, PA — The Patriots and Eagles held the first day of joint practices at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on Monday morning.
The best way to describe the first of two joint practices between New England and Philadelphia was physical and fast-paced. After stretching and positional drills, the session immediately turned to competitive one-on-ones on all three fields, where the speed of practice was so fast that it was impossible to see everything.
Following one-on-ones, the teams went into competitive 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, where quarterback Cam Newton dominated reps with the ones while rookie Mac Jones took all the second-team snaps. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer didn’t take any competitive reps in practice.
With that said, the best quarterback on the field for either team was Philly’s starter, Jalen Hurts.
Hurts was sharp against the Patriots’ starting defense, who had some wins against the Eagles’ starting offense, but Hurts moved the ball well both as a passer and runner. His ability to find a rhythm as a passer was better than expected, and he’s extremely elusive in the pocket.
There are question marks surrounding the second-year quarterbacks’ ability to pilot an effective passing offense, but Hurts more than looked the part during Monday’s session.
In attendance, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith made appearances but weren’t full participants. Smith was a non-participant, while Henry went through the early portion of practice and then disappeared once the contact started.
The injuries at tight end are starting to pile up. With Henry and Smith already nursing injuries, tight end Matt LaCosse left practice early after he was lit up by Eagles linebacker Derek Barnett.
New England also practiced without DT Lawrence Guy, DB Myles Bryant, LB Anfernee Jennings, rookie WR Tre Nixon, and the remaining players on the PUP/NFI list.
Here are a slew of other notes from an eventful first day of joint practices in Philadelphia:
One note before we get started: there were a lot of moving parts on three different fields. Today, my focus was on the QBs and skill positions. I’ll keep my eye on the trenches on Tuesday.
1. QB Cam Newton Looks Shaky Throughout Monday’s Practice
After practice, Patriots quarterback Cam Newton told reporters that head coach Bill Belichick still hasn’t officially named him the Week 1 starter. Although Belichick continuously says that Newton is his starter, the veteran QB will leave the door open for rookie Mac Jones if he practices as he did on Monday. Newton was 13-of-21 in competitive team drills, but those numbers are better than the actual product. He had three passes broken up, two that were nearly intercepted, was sacked twice, and then threw an interception to end his practice. The final two-minute drill for Newton against the Eagles’ starting defense was a microcosm of his New England experience. Cam threw back-to-back strong completions to Nelson Agholor to move the offense into the red zone but was picked off by Eagles linebacker Eric Wilson in the end zone on a throw that never stood a chance. We could highlight isolated throws where Newton makes good quarterback plays, such as a strike to Kendrick Bourne on the backside of a progression and the first throw on a dig route to Agholor in the two minute. But it’s constantly two steps forward, one step back for the former MVP. The play-to-play consistency just isn’t there.
2. QB Mac Jones Lights Up First Half of Practice, Cools Off in Second Half
The Pats’ rookie made several big-time throws in the first competitive reps of practice. Once again, Jones worked with the twos mostly against Philly’s twos, but he had a sprinkling of reps with the top skill players versus the Eagles’ starting secondary. His first throw of practice was a rip to Agholor in 11-on-11s when the cover-three corner was held underneath, and Agholor ran a deep corner route behind the CB. Jones then had three straight completions in 7-on-7s: a fade/wheel route to Agholor for six, a bullet up the seam into tight coverage to Asiasi, and an anticipatory dig route to Kendrick Bourne. Then, Mac hit Agholor once again on a go-ball down the right sideline in 11s. It was an impressive start to practice. However, things cooled off for Jones when he was nearly intercepted twice on deep balls intended for Kristian Wilkerson and Gunner Olszewski, where he threw a better pass to the deep safety than his receivers. Jones finished strong with another dime to N’Keal Harry down the right sideline into the cover-two hole during his final two-minute drill. The Patriots aren’t giving Jones much work with the starting OL, just three reps on Monday, and he certainly has his ups and downs. But his accuracy is far more consistent throw-to-throw, there are a handful of “wow” moments, and he’s aggressively pushing the ball downfield. He was a tad too aggressive today at times with the deep balls to Wilkerson and Olszewski, but you’d rather see Jones make aggressive mistakes downfield than be trigger shy. Today was another day where it’s clear who is the more consistent passer in this offense.
3. WR Nelson Agholor Shines Against Former Team, Brings the Speed
Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor didn’t play In the preseason opener against Washington. It showed both the lack of big plays through the air and how WFT’s defense played the Pats’ starting offense (with the safeties crowding the box). New England’s offense needs Agholor’s speed, period. Without it, they’re just as slow at the skill positions as a year ago. The Pats’ wideout caught five passes in team drills against his former team, including two deep balls from Jones and three intermediate chunk plays from both QBs. In the two-minute drill, the Pats’ starting offense drove down the field with Newton finding Agholor on back-to-back plays. Defenses will continue to load up the box with zero respect for New England’s outside receivers if Agholor isn’t in the lineup. He’s their only deep threat, and he’s very effective in his role. If I had to redo my Most Important Pats list, Agholor would be on there. He might be higher than the tight-end duo. That’s how critical his speed is to this passing offense.
4. LB Matt Judon Picks Up Where He Left Off In Thursday’s Preseason Opener
After registering a tackle for loss, QB hit, and forcing an incompletion in just 12 snaps in the preseason opener, newcomer Matt Judon was all over the field again in practice. Judon picked off Hurts in 7-on-7 by dropping off the line of scrimmage into a shallow zone (Hurts never saw him) and then blew by the right tackle for a sack in team drills later in the session. Judon does everything well in terms of what the Patriots ask of their outside linebackers: rush the passer, set the edge of the defense versus the run, occasionally drop into coverage. He looks like a home-run signing three weeks into camp.
5. WR N’Keal Harry Continues Strong Practice Performances
Although Harry only had one catch for four yards last Thursday night, he continues to make plays on the practice field. Harry won all three of his reps in one-on-ones, including two against likely starting corner Avonte Maddox. Harry’s ability to create enough separation at the top of routes and climb the ladder makes him a matchup problem in one-on-one drills. Yes, those heavily favor the receivers, but you see enough wiggle at the top of his vertical breaks to give him space to elevate and pluck the ball out of the air. Harry then caught a pass over the middle and a fade down the left sideline from Jones towards the end of practice. After both Pats QB struggled a bit in the two-minute drill, Harry made himself available in the cover-two hole for Jones and ended practice on a high note with a touchdown. At some point, Harry needs to take it from the practice field to the game field, but it’s encouraging that he’s practicing well nonetheless.
6. RB Rhamondre Stevenson, CB Joejuan Williams Take Reps with the Ones
For the first time this summer, rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson and third-year corner Joejuan Williams got extended snaps with the starters. Stevenson seemed to earn the reps after a strong performance in the first preseason game, while Williams also played well and allowed the Pats to move Jalen Mills inside the formation where he is better suited. Neither player had any strong flashes of play, but it was notable that they are getting more opportunities higher on the depth chart. Williams also wasn’t noticeably burned in coverage either, which is all you can ask for out of a number three corner. If, and it’s a big if, Williams is figuring it out, that would be a significant development for this defense. The Patriots desperately need a third outside corner to step up behind Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, and Williams should be that guy.
7. Does WR Kristian Wilkerson Have a Case of the Yips?
Okay, it’s not full-blown yips yet for Wilkerson. But the Pats’ wideout had two more drops during competitive team drills and was targeted on two plays that nearly ended in interceptions. Wilkerson is a strong route-runner who has enough speed to get open at this level, but the “finish” aspect of the play is still a work in progress. As we know, the first part of being an effective NFL receiver is getting open, and you need to be able to do that. But you also need to catch the ball, and Wilkerson’s issues with the latter might put him in the developmental category rather than a real contributor on the 53-man roster.
8. RB Sony Michel Looks Quicker, More Decisive as a Receiver
I’m not sure what to make of it yet, but Michel is a reliable check-down option in these practices, and last week, he even made a downfield grab. The Pats running back is more confident in his routes. Instead of thinking and playing slow, he’s getting to his spots faster and testing underneath coverage. His hands are fine, and he even had some wiggle after the catch on a few plays. Although we don’t want to get too crazy, sometimes you need to confirm whether it’s a “26” or a “28” on the jersey. Michel has looked solid in the passing game, but it remains to be seen if it translates to regular-season games.
9. WR Kendrick Bourne May Be Struggling With Route Conversions
Another aspect of the offense that we don’t want to make a major deal about three weeks in, but Bourne had an animated conversation with both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi early in practice. The issue was that Bourne, on a throw from Jones, ran the wrong route when Jones expected him to break inside, and Bourne continued up the sideline. We all know the stories about how complex this passing system is, and we aren’t into full panic mode with Bourne yet, but it’s something to monitor in the second half of camp. Bourne needs to win with his precise route-running, and many of the routes he will run as a Patriot have options or conversions. He’s not a burner, so a lot is riding on Bourne understanding the offense if he’s going to find success.