FOXBORO, MA — The Patriots held their second training camp practice in full pads on a rainy morning at Gillette Stadium on Thursday.
For the second consecutive day, rookie Mac Jones was the best quarterback on the field. Some of Jones’s best reps were against the scout team defense, but the Pats’ first-rounder was in complete control and ran the offense at a high level.
Jones made several big-time throws in extended 11-on-11 work, the second day in a row where he out-repped Newton (19 throws to 11). At one point, Jones took 13-straight reps.
Along with the heavy workload, Jones had dimes to Kristian Wilkerson (corner route), Hunter Henry (seam) and hit N’Keal Harry in-stride on an in-breaking route for a huge catch and run.
But the play that stood out the most wasn’t a downfield throw but rather a quick slant to Harry. Before the ball was snapped, Jones sniffed out a blitz by linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. He tapped his helmet to “alert” the protection to the blitz, moved his running back over to block Bentley, and threw “hot” and in stride to Harry to beat the pressure. That’s the good stuff.
Cam Newton is capable of running this offense. The Pats’ current starter is playing well in camp and is improving in the system, as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noted on Wednesday.
However, it’s hard to ignore the rhythm and efficiency with Jones at quarterback. It might not be Week 1. It might not be Week 5. Maybe they wait till Week 8. Who knows?
The Patriots’ offense is predicated on timing, with quarterback and receiver seeing the same picture against the defense. When Jones is under center, it looks like the Patriots’ offense.
There’s so much back-and-forth between Newton supporters and Jones stans to the point where it feels like some are openly rooting for one over the other.
My assessment is not based on rooting interest, just what my eyes are telling me, and they’re saying that Newton is capable, but Jones is practicing like the QB the Pats hoped they were getting in the draft.
To that point, you don’t draft a quarterback in the first round, have him take reps with the starters right out of the gate, and watch him run your offense effectively, then sit him on the bench for an entire year.
If you see it as a bad thing that the Pats’ first-round pick looks the part, that’s on you.
Let’s empty the notebook from the second day in pads for the Patriots on Thursday:
1. QB Cam Newton Looks Shaky in Limited Reps
Newton went 5-of-11 in competitive 11s on Thursday, with his best completion of the day coming in 7-on-7 to Jonnu Smith. Newton put the ball in a perfect spot for Smith as he ran towards the sideline, keeping it away from safety Kyle Dugger who had good coverage. The bad for Newton was that he was again holding the football and failing to anticipate open receivers. It stood out on a pass breakup by J.C. Jackson on a ball for Nelson Agholor. Agholor was running a post route when he read the middle of the field was closed. Agholor correctly sat his route down instead of running into the post safety, and it was there for a completion, but Newton threw the ball too late, which let Jackson back in the play. We should be willing to chalk that one up to Newton and Agholor working on getting on the same page. But the receiver ran the route properly, and the QB was slow to pull the trigger. For the second consecutive day, Mac was the best quarterback on the field. It’s now an even 4-4 on the scorecard, and the tie should go to the rookie.
2. Player of the Day: TE Jonnu Smith
In an early full-contact period, the Patriots ran one of my favorite drills called “inside six,” which is essentially an inverse of 7-on-7. Instead of receivers versus the back seven, it’s the offensive line and tight ends versus the defensive front seven for run game work. During a very competitive drill, Pats tight end Jonnu Smith opened a massive hole for the back by driving second-year linebacker Josh Uche into the parking lot. It was teach tape run blocking with Smith’s feet, hands, and pad level owning the rep. Smith lines up all over the formation in these practices. He’s a highly effective run blocker, an explosive player in the open field, and does enough with his route running to get open downfield. Smith is an outstanding football player and might be the best free-agent addition on offense when it’s all said and done.
3. Highlights From Offensive Line/Defensive Line 1v1s
We got a long look at the offensive and defensive lines doing both one-on-ones and two-on-twos, where both sides worked on line stunts. Here are the highlights:
- David Andrews absolutely pancaked Nick Thurman on one rep and then stood over Thurman for an extra second. It was disrespectful.
- Isaiah Wynn stone-walled Deatrich Wise from the jump on a rep and looks very good. Wynn is headed for a breakout season if he can stay healthy (more on that later).
- Michael Onwenu won all four of his reps and continues to be the best OL on the field.
- DL Henry Anderson had some nice wins today and is starting to come on. He’s a strong rusher who uses his power to set up nice inside counter moves.
- LB Rashod Berry’s speed-to-power stands out in one-one-ones, as it did on his college tape. Berry’s having a nice camp. He has a handful of one-on-one wins and got off to a good start in team periods early in camp. Berry is also repping a lot on special teams. If Winovich starts the season on PUP, Berry could make the team.
4. DL Carl Davis a Sleeper to Watch
Davis won all four of his reps in one-on-ones and made two stops during the inside six drill. He is mainly repping with the scout team at the moment, but after some productive snaps in his three appearances last season, Davis has good tape as a Patriot. He has a great combination of size (6-6, 320) and athleticism. Don’t sleep on Davis sticking around as a backup IDL.
5. Left Side of Pats OL, Isaiah Wynn & Michael Onwenu, Paving the Way
There are at least three, if not more, reps that stand out from the first two days of full pads where Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu are cleaning out the house. Wynn and Onwenu are the two best offensive linemen on the field through eight practices. Onwenu hasn’t lost a one-on-one rep and is controlling the line of scrimmage. Wynn looks fantastic. He stone-walled Deatrich Wise in one-on-ones, and his run blocking technique combined with upper-body power is noticeable on each rep. Wynn truly can be one of the league’s top left tackles if he can just stay healthy.
6. Highlights From Wide Receiver/Cornerback 1v1s
We saw 13 competitive reps of one-on-ones between some of the receivers and all of the cornerbacks. The primarily inside receivers, such as Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers, were working a different drill. It mainly was outside guys, like Nelson Agholor and depth receivers. Here were some highlights:
- CB Joejuan Williams had one of his best reps of camp by smothering a Nelson Agholor slant route and breaking up the pass. Williams’s length comes into play when he can anticipate the break. His hips are too slow to stick with the receiver through the break point when he’s sitting back and reacting.
- WR Kristian Wilkerson beat J.C. Jackson clean at the line on a go ball, and Jones threw a dime for six. Wilkerson can make the team if he can play well in joint practices and preseason games.
- Both rookie WR Tre Nixon and WR Marvin Hall used a little fake at the top of their routes to shake free of CB Michael Jackson for wins on corner routes. Hall’s route, in particular, was smooth. He flashed impressive acceleration out of the break.
- Based on what we’ve seen, the Patriots should pay Stephon Gilmore whatever he wants to avoid playing DB Jalen Mills at outside corner. No offense to Mills, who can be good in the proper role, but playing outside isn’t it.