Lazar’s Notebook: Ten Observations From Patriots OTAs

The Patriots held a two-hour practice behind Gillette Stadium on Thursday.

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FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots held their first open practice of the 2019 season as the media got to observe the players that were present for a nearly two-hour session on Thursday.

For the Pats, this was OTA number three in a series of ten practices where there’s no live contact, but players do partake in drills pitting the offense against the defense.

Along with quarterback Tom Brady, there were some notable players absent: Patrick Chung, Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn, Kyle Van Noy, Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Ryan Allen, Yodny Cajuste and Demaryius Thomas.

Here are some observations from Thursday’s practice:

1. First-Round Pick N’Keal Harry Looks The Part

The N’Keal Harry era in New England is off to a good start. Harry was heavily involved in the session playing both on the outside and in the slot. He made a series of nice grabs during 11 on 11’s including a back-shoulder fade and a nifty slant route against fellow rookie Joejuan Williams. After practice, Harry also told me that he’s working closely with both backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown. The Pats rookie said he’s picking Hoyer’s brain about the complex New England playbook and that Brown is helping him refine his technique as a route runner. Harry still needs to eliminate some wasted movement in his routes, spending too much time trying to shake defenders at the top of his patterns. But his size, athleticism and strong hands stood out.

2. Joe Thuney Plays Left Tackle

Starting left guard Joe Thuney spent the session at left tackle with the rest of the starters. For the most part, it was veteran Ted Karras at left guard with Brian Schwenke filling in as well. Thuney did play left tackle in college, but the move highlights the lack of depth the Patriots have at tackle with the recent retirement of Jared Veldheer and injuries to youngsters Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste. Wynn is “penciled in” at left tackle once he returns, according to OL coach Dante Scarnecchia. The Patriots might be in the market for a veteran replacement for Veldheer.

3. Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson Featured At Tight End

The first two names on the list shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it was surprising to see how active Stephen Anderson was during practice. Watson is the number one guy taking most of the first-team reps making a nice touchdown grab up the seam in 11 on 11’s. But LaCosse cycled in with Watson and Anderson was in the mix as well. LaCosse made a nice grab at the end of practice showing off his large catch radius.

4. Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich Round Out Solid Showing From Top Rookies

Both Williams and Winovich were very active in Thursday’s practice, but Williams took more reps with the starters than Winovich. The Pats second-round pick did get beat by Harry for a touchdown, but he had an interception and another pass breakup. Williams’ interception looked like a miscommunication between Stidham and wide receiver Damoun Patterson, but the Pats rookie smoothly jumped the route stepping in front of Patterson for what would’ve been a pick six. As for Winovich, it’s tough to evaluate players in the trenches until we put on the pads, but Winovich’s relentlessness and effort show up even on the practice field. The Michigan product practices like he plays in games.

5. Rookie Punter Jake Bailey Has A “Boomer”

The most impressive player on the field for the Patriots was rookie punter Jake Bailey. Julian Edelman told me after practice, “my guy has a boomer,” and Edelman wasn’t lying. Bailey put on a show for the media with towering punts that had both distance and accuracy. He also practiced a few kickoffs and impressed on those as well. Incumbent punter Ryan Allen was not at the practice session, but he might want to get here. Bailey is the real deal.

6. Jarrett Stidham Looks Shaky In First Impression

Let’s not overreact to any of this, but it’s clear that fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham has a long way to go. Stidham does throw a pretty ball, and his accuracy was about what I expected for an inaccurate college passer. However, it’s clear that he’s doing a lot of thinking right now as he tries to grasp the Patriots offense and his timing was off for most of the session. Stidham threw multiple interceptions, including one during a walkthrough, as the rookie looks like a rookie with the game moving a little fast for him right now. It’s very early, but Brian Hoyer is way ahead of Stidham right now.

7. Maurice Harris Taking on Specialized Role In Pats Offense

Based on Thursday’s practice, free-agent addition Maurice Harris, who stood out during drills, is squarely in the mix at wide receiver. Although we didn’t see him in the backfield, Harris’ role in the practice was similar to Cordarrelle Patterson’s last season. Harris moved around the formation at receiver, took a series of jet-sweep handoffs and practiced returns. Harris was a standout practice player with the Redskins and was today with impressive speed to the edge and burst as a ball carrier.

8. Taking Note of Patriots Returners

The Patriots didn’t do any full-team return drills today, but here were the players that were fielding punts and kickoffs: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Ryan Davis, Maurice Harris and a mystery number 72.

9. Bill Belichick Takes Hands-On Approach With Defense

When people ask me if Belichick is nearing retirement, I often point to anecdotes of the 67-year-old like the one I’ll mention here from today’s practice. At one point in the session, Belichick was in the trenches with his defensive linemen coaching them up on their hand technique during a drill. It’s easy to tell how much Belichick loves coaching even the little things like a non-contact technique drill in May. With no defensive coordinator, you’d expect to see this hands-on approach from the Hoodie continue throughout the season.

10. Troy Brown Working With Pats Wide Receivers

Along with linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, another former Patriot was coaching up the next generation at practice. Pats Hall of Famer Troy Brown was in attendance working with the wide receivers during position drills. As mentioned above, Brown is taking rookie N’Keal Harry under his wing.