The Patriots went through a high-paced practice in shells and shorts on Sunday morning that saw things trending towards quarterback Cam Newton starting for New England this season.
Building off momentum from last week, Newton went 28-of-39 during team drills as he dominated the reps in Sunday’s session with Jarrett Stidham sidelined due to a hip injury.
With Newton winning the starting job, we are starting to see the plan for the Patriots offense built around a mobile quarterback, a rock-solid offensive line, depth at running back, and receivers, tight ends, and fullbacks that are willing blockers.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is adapting the offense, especially from a running game perspective, to amplify Newton’s athleticism and ability to run the football at a high level.
We are going to see significant changes to New England’s offensive scheme, a drastic shift from the Brady era. There’s growing optimism that they can build a potent passing attack off of their running game that will mask some of their speed and separation issues at wide receiver.
On Friday, McDaniels told CLNS Media that he’s drawing inspiration from Newton himself and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch to adapt the scheme to his new quarterback’s strengths.
“I would say we’ve drawn a lot of ideas from some of them, the players themselves. Coach Fisch was in LA, he’s been at other places where they did more of this stuff than we have. There’s been some great insight given from Jedd this offseason on things like that.” McDaniels said. “It’s been fun. It’s always kind of interesting when you embark and try to learn and execute a new scheme and some things like that.”
There are also growing concerns on the other side of the ball heightened by the Pats offensive line running over New England’s front seven almost at will over the last week in practice.
New England’s offensive line continues to open up massive running lanes for Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, and the rest of the Pats RBs at the expense of the Pats’ struggling run defense.
We discussed the departures at linebacker throughout the offseason. Still, seeing it in action this past week, you cannot overstate how different this unit is at the first and second levels.
The Patriots don’t currently have a block-eating nose tackle with Beau Allen sidelined, and rookies Josh Uche and Cassh Maluia are still figuring things out.
Both Uche and Maluia are flashing, but it’s boom or bust due to their inexperience. Vets such as Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland, John Simon, and Shilique Calhoun are steady but not playmakers. Winovich is the wild card, and we haven’t seen much of third-round pick Anfernee Jennings. That’ll be the group moving forward, with the burning question of whether there are enough impact players among them to generate negative plays?
After a full week of Patriots practice, here’s a note on every player on the roster:
– Cam Newton: Newton isn’t quite in-sync within the scheme or with his pass-catchers yet. Although, we are starting to see him get on the same page with Julian Edelman and his tight ends. Newton’s shoulder and foot are healthy, and his arm looks good, but he hasn’t had many opportunities to push the ball downfield. QB coach Jedd Fisch is working on syncing Newton’s lower half with his upper body on his throws. Fisch told CLNS Media that he will not rework Newton’s unorthodox throwing motion, but wants to make his footwork and weight transfer cleaner take the stress off his arm. Newton’s ball placement is better than expected. Although he won’t win any accuracy competitions, it’s become obvious that the Patriots can build a productive offense around his strengths.
– Jarrett Stidham: Stidham is one of the most inconsistent practice players on the Patriots roster. He’ll make an on-time, accurate throw one play where you say to yourself, “Wow, this guy can play.” Then the very next rep, he loses control of the football or throws an interception. Stidham’s ball placement remains the most consistent issue, as he makes the proper read and delivers a strong throw but will put the ball too close to the defender where he has a chance to make a play on it. Stidham’s ability to develop more consistent accuracy and decision making will decide whether or not he’ll start for the Patriots in the future.
– Brian Hoyer: when Hoyer is in there, the Patriots offense runs a lot smoother than the other quarterbacks at practice. The veteran QB knows the playbook, makes all the proper checks and audibles at the line and gets the ball out quickly and to the right receiver. However, his ceiling is capped by limited arm strength and playmaking abilities that lead to tons of check-downs rather than pushing the ball downfield into closing passing windows. If Hoyer starts games this year, you can understand it from a knowledge and timing perspective. But it’s hard to imagine a productive offense with these skill players quarterbacked by Hoyer.
– Brian Lewerke: he’s the definition of a camp arm, but Lewerke might stick around on the practice squad for scout team duties. He’s well-liked.
– Rex Burkhead: the Pats veteran’s spot on the team is safe. Burkhead has decent burst to get through the first wave of defenders and makes decisive cuts. Plus, we know what he can do as a receiver and in the kicking game.
– James White: the Patriots are managing White’s workload in the early stages of camp. He looks like the same guy. Watching him be Newton’s new Christian McCaffrey in the passing game will be fun.
– Damien Harris: the second-year pro has won over this scribe during the first week of pads. Harris has a great feel between the tackles for his cutback lanes and how to get himself into space. The Alabama product has similar burst, long speed, and wiggle as Sony Michel. But he’s making plays as a receiver that Michel never made. Will he be a super dynamic runner and pass catcher? Not necessarily. But he’s versatile and can churn out difficult yards. He’s been the best back in camp.
– J.J. Taylor: running backs coach Ivan Fears had a lot of praise for the undrafted rookie. Taylor is elusive, sudden in his cuts, and impactful as a receiver. The next steps for Taylor are becoming more consistent to cut down on drops, and Fears pointed out that he needs to learn to play bigger than his size. Taylor doesn’t play with enough power behind his pads to run through contact; he has to shake defenders, which becomes a problem. He’ll make the team depending on Michel and Miller’s injury situations.
– Sony Michel (foot) and Lamar Miller (knee) remain on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and haven’t practiced yet.
– Julian Edelman: Edelman looks like himself when he’s out there, but the feeling here is that he’ll be battling through nagging injuries all season. He still has the juice and electric separation quickness.
– N’Keal Harry: we are still waiting for Harry to deliver a highlight play in one of these practices. He looks faster, thinner, and quicker with his footwork. But there are still issues at the top of his routes with losing ground out of his breaks. The Patriots need Harry to be an alpha dog, a physical and imposing downfield receiver that believes he’s going to win every contested ball. He hasn’t been given many opportunities to show that yet, but he’s also still struggling to separate. His blocking has been good.
– Mohamed Sanu: Sanu is a difficult practice player to decipher. Against air, his route running and pacing stand out. However, he looks a little slow out there and is struggling to create separation. Sanu could be a surprise cut or trade candidate with the group behind him improving over the offseason. His chemistry with Newton might save him.
– Damiere Byrd: Byrd’s speed does present a problem for defensive backs on the perimeter, especially when he sets up comeback/stop routes along the sideline. We haven’t seen his skill after the catch yet without live tackling, but he plays with a little more physicality and awareness than Phillip Dorsett. The Patriots are getting what they expected out of him.
– Gunner Olszewski: there’s no doubt that Gunner is bigger, more explosive, and technically refined in his second season. He has beaten the starting secondary for receptions a handful of times and might’ve taken the biggest leap forward of any Patriot this offseason. Gunner is more than just a slot receiver; he often wins on the outside and is proving me wrong.
– Devin Ross: Ross might end up making this team. His route running and post-snap adjustments are impressive, as is his work at the catch point to finish through contact. He might be this year’s Maurice Harris, but it’s hard to deny what he has shown in the first six practices. He’s one of the smoother route runners on the team.
– Jakobi Meyers: Meyers is showing steady improvement in his second season. He hasn’t made a massive leap yet, but he hasn’t gone backward either, and he’s more confident now in the playbook. Last season, Meyers didn’t always run the correct routes, and his lack of explosiveness caused him to struggle. If he continues to show a better feel for the playbook, he’ll be a viable option at the backend of the depth chart.
– Jeff Thomas: unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of anything from Thomas. He participated in positional drills some, but we are still waiting to see him in live-action. Until then, we will reserve judgment.
– Isaiah Zuber: Zuber doesn’t have much of a chance to make this team. But he’s doing a lot of work out there, and there’s some speed to his game. He has quite a few drops through six practices, though, and he isn’t separating all that much.
– Will Hastings: Hastings is quick, but he’s tiny, and it’s hard to envision him handling physical NFL coverage very well. A year in the weight room while on the practice squad seems like a good idea.
– Ryan Izzo: the third-year pro looks like he added some muscle to his frame and is having his best camp yet. Izzo is starting to handle basic blocking duties on the line of scrimmage and made a few nice grabs up the seam and a touchdown catch in Sunday’s practice from Newton in the back of the end zone. He should make the roster, but his pass-catching upside remains extremely limited. He’s a TE3 on most teams.
– Devin Asiasi: as many expected, Asiasi is showing out well amongst the rookies. His ability to gain ground out of his route breaks and snappiness at the top of the route is impressive. Plus, he’s been serviceable as a blocker on the line of scrimmage. There’s plenty of excitement brewing with the Pats rookie. He can get open due to his technique and quickness.
– Dalton Keene: Keene looks lost out there, and he’s dropping some passes when the ball does come his way, but the effort and physicality is there. His skill set to play multiple roles and block from in-line, off the line, and in the backfield make him very intriguing in the style of offense the Pats will run with Newton. He just needs to get his bearings. The Pats coaching staff was expecting an adjustment period for Keene, operating in a much different offense now than what he did at Virginia Tech.
– Jakob Johnson: Johnson should make this team unless the Patriots opt to transition Keene to more of a fullback role. He made some ridiculously good blocks to start last week and shows that he has improved some as a receiver. Johnson is doing everything right to make but the team, but do they need a traditional fullback on this year’s squad?
– Jake Burt: Burt has some good qualities as a blocker, but don’t expect him to make the team.
– Rashod Berry: whether it’s at tight end or outside linebacker, Berry is in the development stages and is another likely practice squad candidate.
– Paul Butler: Butler had a few bad drops. He’s got good size at 6-6, 250 pounds, and looks like an NFL tight end, but the skill and technique are not there.
– Paul Quessenberry: only one practice in for Quessenberry, whose size and skill set suggest he might be trying out at fullback rather than tight end.
– David Andrews: Andrews looks ready to go after missing all of last season. He’s leading the group well and is a big reason why the running game looks so good at this early stage. Andrews’s athleticism at the position gives the Patriots a lot of flexibility.
– Joe Thuney: Thuney looks bored at times with the level of competition on the defensive line for New England. His footwork, posture, and ability to sink and drive into his engagements are fantastic to watch. He’s a stud and is on an All-Pro/Pro Bowl trajectory this season.
– Shaq Mason: we are seeing a pissed off Shaq Mason that looks like he wants to prove people that doubted him wrong after last season. His pulls and doubles are people-moving machines, and his pass blocking is still solid. The Pats have a great guard tandem.
– Isaiah Wynn: Wynn always impresses me in training camp. He’s got underrated upper-body power that combines with fundamentally sound footwork, hand placement, and knee bend that helps him routinely leverage blocks. He looks ready to go.
– Jermaine Eluemunor: Eluemunor is one of the surprises of camp thus far. He’s a lot more powerful as a run blocker than expected, and he’s moving people off the ball alongside Shaq Mason on doubles and combination blocks. Plus, Eluemunor is a little more athletic than Cannon was, at least last season. He might be an upgrade if he continues to play this well.
– Hjalte Froholdt: another pleasant surprise of camp is Froholdt, who is now almost locked into the top interior backup spot vacated by Ted Karras. Froholdt is a lot more confident and aggressive in everything he’s doing. He’s lunging and grabbing less while keeping his feet moving and using his hands as weapons. He’s trending towards a future starter after a rough rookie camp a year ago.
– Yodny Cajuste: the only real disappointment of this group, Cajuste is knocking the rust off after missing his entire rookie season due to injury. His technique is sloppy, and he’s falling forward too often as a run blocker. Getting his balance and footwork back is critical. He’s struggling right now.
– Korey Cunningham: the Patriots are loving what they’re getting out of Cunningham as a depth option. His ability to block in space due to his athleticism continues to show up, and he isn’t getting ragdolled as often in the trenches. He has taken a step forward from last year.
– Justin Herron: Belichick might’ve found something with Herron in the sixth round. He can play either tackle or guard, and his pass protection skill is apparent. Herron has great feet to mirror rushers and uses his hands more along with choppier steps to anchor against power. With Eluemunor, Herron, and Cunningham playing well, the Pats tackle depth doesn’t look so bad.
– Michael Onwenu: we are still optimistic that Onwenu has a future in this league. His immense power and size certainly stand out, but he’s buried on the depth chart and is still developing his change of direction quickness to be a viable pass blocker. Still, the foundation is there.
– Tyler Gauthier and Ben Braden are both camp bodies. Gauthier, in particular, has struggled.
– Lawrence Guy: Guy is still New England’s best defensive linemen, and he’s one of the only guys that has stood out during run periods. Guy’s ability to take on double-teams and leverage his gaps is extremely impressive. He’s tough to move.
– Adam Butler: there were some flashes of penetration early on in camp from Butler as a run defender, but he continues to be more of a pass-rush specialist that plays too high against the run. There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s excellent in his role and will make splash plays from time to time against the run.
– John Simon: Simon could be a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end, but the Pats officially list him as a defensive lineman. Simon is never flashy, but his steady edge-setting and ability to disrupt the quarterback within the scheme make him a key cog in this defense. Until the rookies grow up a little bit, it’ll be the Simon show on early downs.
– Chase Winovich: Winovich is building on a strong rookie season with more of the same in his second year. He’s got a great initial burst off the line, hustles, operates in the scheme well, and can chase down ball carriers coming across the formation. He hasn’t done anything that suggests his snaps won’t dramatically increase this season.
– Shilique Calhoun: Calhoun is a solid edge-setter and gets free sometimes thanks to the scheme as a pass rusher. He’s like Simon because he isn’t flashy but gets the job done. He’ll have a role on this team both on defensive and special teams.
– Deatrich Wise: Wise has sneakily been one of the most disruptive front seven players in camp. He’s a one-on-one’s standout and even beat Thuney on Thursday during drills and would’ve recorded multiple quarterback pressures in Sunday’s session. His edge setting might’ve taken a slight step forward too. Wise is one of New England’s best one-on-one pass rushers in a group that’s lacking those types of players.
– Byron Cowart: Cowart is getting a lot of run out there with Allen out, and he’s made some plays. His quickness off the ball continues to flash, and you see him burst through the line to make plays in the backfield at times. We’d like to see him play within the scheme a little more rather than rely on his get-off every rep, but he can wreck a play pretty quickly.
– Derek Rivers: the story of Derek Rivers’s career remains the same. In the first two days of practice, he beat the Pats tackles with his speed-dip moves and got into the backfield. Then, he got hurt. Water is wet.
– Nick Thurman: Thurman hasn’t done anything of note and continues to just kind of be there. Practice squad, at best.
– Bill Murray: Murray struggled early on in camp with block recognition and anticipation. He’s got some strength to his game, no doubt, but he’s going sideways too often and allowing the flow of the offensive line to dictate his movements rather than getting upfield.
– Xavier Williams: The Patriots signed Williams on Sunday, and he has yet to practice.
– Ja’Whaun Bentley: the good news for Bentley is that Sunday’s practice was a strong one for him. His instincts pull him towards the ball, and he’s still great attacking the line of scrimmage against the run. But the Patriots need more splash plays from him with the other options they have at the second level lacking experience.
– Brandon Copeland: Copeland’s versatility and understanding of how the scheme builds off of knowing where each other make him a nice fit here. He can play on or off the line and knows how to read out running plays for the most part. He’s another guy that isn’t making any eye-popping plays, though.
– Josh Uche: the Patriots certainly have a young playmaker in the making with Uche, but he’s got a long way to go in terms of the game’s mental aspects. Uche doesn’t know where he’s going, and he gets fooled a lot in the running game, but he makes the occasional splash play. In that sense, he reminds many of a young Jamie Collins. He made a great play in goal-line work last week by penetrating the line off the snap and spilling the running back into the pile. There are moments where his explosiveness and athleticism show up.
– Anfernee Jennings: we haven’t seen enough of Jennings to give a full scouting report. Hopefully, the rookie can put whatever injury he suffered behind him for a more eventful second week.
– Caash Maluia: Maluia is in the same boat as Uche, and looks like another day three find for the Pats. He’s athletic, physical, and instinctive around the football. But he doesn’t really know where he’s going yet. The coaching staff seems to love his skill set, he just needs to improve from a mental standpoint.
– Terez Hall: with the Pats thin at linebacker, Hall might make the team. He’s flying around the field with good instincts and physicality to sniff out screens or deliver big hits on ball carriers. There’s a lot to like about Hall, who can also play on special teams.
– Scoota Harris: there are plenty of instances where Harris gives off some serious Elandon Roberts vibes. He’s a sledgehammer coming downhill and will make the best of each engagement out there, but he’s very limited in what he can do in space.
– Stephon Gilmore: Gilmore has missed a handful of practices due to a personal matter, but have no fear, he looks great and will be ready to go. He had an interception during team drills on Tuesday that reminded us that he’s the best cornerback in the game.
– JC Jackson: it’s fun to watch Jackson out at practice. He battles for every ball and rides receivers all over the field. He’s incredibly sticky in coverage, and he’s got the ball skills and instincts to make plays—another stud corner for New England.
– Jonathan Jones: Jones hasn’t had as strong of a camp as he did last year, but there’s no cause for concern. Jones’s ability to play man coverage and hold up against the run makes him great in the slot for New England.
– Jason McCourty: there’s nothing bad to say about McCourty, who is a pro that can play both inside, outside, man or zone. He never seems to bust a coverage. It’s remarkable.
– Joejuan Williams: don’t know where Williams fits in with this team. He’s not getting beat as much this training camp compared to his rookie season, and he added some versatility to his game by learning safety. But he’s not making enough plays to stand out in a crowded group.
– Michael Jackson: Jackson had a strong start to his Patriots career, where he showed his instincts and size are a factor for wideouts. He’s long, gets his hands on some passes, and looks like a Pats man corner. He made more plays than Williams this past week.
– D’Angelo Ross: Ross isn’t sticking out quite as much as he did last summer, and now he is hurt. The Patriots could try to stash him again.
– Myles Bryant: the undrafted rookie is struggling, although he did make some plays in the ball late last week. Bryant needs to move to a slot corner or box safety role to stick in the league. He doesn’t have the speed or size to hold up at outside corner.
– Devin McCourty: McCourty looks ready to go for year 11. He’s still by far the best free safety on the team, makes great instinctual plays on the backend, and is doing other things showing off his versatility.
– Kyle Dugger: an extremely impressive start for Dugger, who is dealing with a minor injury, but the rookie is playing very well. Dugger’s size and athleticism allow him to play anywhere on the defense. As we saw in college, he can play in the backend as a rangy safety over the top or come down in the box to guard tight ends. Dugger’s instincts are what surprised me the most; the guy is around the ball constantly. The Patriots haven’t had a top pick show this well early in camp in a while.
– Terrence Brooks: if we had to judge after the first week, Brooks is out-playing free-agent addition, Adrian Phillips. Brook’s comfortability and experience in the Pats defense are paying dividends, and he also looks a little faster than he was a year ago. He’s serviceable in the role they want him to play.
– Adrian Phillips: we haven’t seen Phillips take off yet, and now he is dealing with an injury potentially. The lack of reps in the Pats defense is causing Phillips to be a step slow to the football right now. Hopefully, his instincts take over at some point, and his special teams value should keep him on the team. But he’s far from a guarantee at the moment.
– Cody Davis: Davis has a real shot at making the team as a backup free safety and special teamer. His teammates are pointing out his legit game speed, and he has decent instincts and positioning as a post safety in the middle of the field. Davis’s range might be a little limited from the deep middle, but he can make it work if they want to put him back there.
– Justin Rohrwasser: the Patriots are expected to sign veteran kicker Nick Folk for a reason. Rohrwasser’s struggles might be due to injury, but he’s wildly inaccurate, sometimes missing the netting on his kicks. The ball never comes off his foot the same way twice. He’s got a big leg, though.
– Jake Bailey: Bailey is awesome, whether he’s booming punts 50-plus yards or trying to down a punt inside the five. He can do it all well.
– Joe Cardona: no miscues thus far for Cardona, who continues to be a steady long snapper for the Patriots.
– Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel will lead a group of coverage specialists who are fun to watch. The two fly down the field and are always around the ball on every kick.