The Patriots turned up the heat a little more in day two of padded practice with an hour and 45-minute session on Tuesday morning that had a little bit of everything.
New England’s quarterback competition remains a dead-heat in terms of reps, but my sense after watching two practices is that the Pats find themselves in an interesting conundrum.
On the one hand, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer have a much better feel for the base passing concepts and timing of the offense than Cam Newton. But on the other hand, we’ve seen Pats skill players struggle against the league’s best secondary at times, and the offense might need Newton’s mobility as a playmaking weapon to open things up.
One of the challenges of deciphering these camp practices is the talent on the other side of the ball; not many receiving corps can separate against Stephon Gilmore and company.
How much are these struggles a result of facing the NFL’s best secondary, and how much of it is that the Patriots don’t have enough weapons on offense? Either way, Newton adds another threat.
Practice attendance was the same as yesterday with the addition of outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Nose tackle Beau Allen, rookies Anfernee Jennings and Jeff Thomas, and PUP players Sony Michel and Lamar Miller were still absent. Julian Edelman was limited during the session and disappeared after the start of practice.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of everything I saw at Tuesday’s practice:
– Stidham finished practice strong after a rough start. He threw three interceptions, two on passes intended for Damiere Byrd, and one for Devin Ross. Byrd didn’t do him any favors rounding off his route on a deep out cut, and the heave to Byrd was out of desperation. Stidham’s best throw came late to Mohamed Sanu for a 20-plus yard touchdown. Sanu snuck behind a cover-two structure on a fade route. Stidham made the read and hit him perfectly in stride. Stidham continues to read the field and throw the ball well, but Tuesday was a reminder of his propensity to put the ball up for grabs. Still, he’s the most in control QB at practice.
– As for Newton, it’s great to see him bring energy every practice even though he’s in a competition. His ball is coming out with plenty of zip, and physically, he looks good. But he’s still holding onto the ball and looks like someone that’s slowing down his process because he’s mentally trying to grasp the offense. The Pats did some goal-line work at the end of practice where Newton’s mobility was a factor and led to an easy touchdown to Devin Asiasi. He also connected with Devin Ross and Jakobi Meyers a few times during 11-on-11s. We see glimpses of what Newton can do, but he’s coming along slowly in a complex playbook.
— Patriots on CLNS (@PatriotsCLNS) August 18, 2020
– There isn’t much incentive in playing Brian Hoyer this season, but on back-to-back days, he had arguably the best throw of practice. Hoyer hit Devin Ross on a deep ball once again up the left sideline over Jason McCourty. The ball floated a little, but the placement was good. He also hit Gunner Olszewski on a deep post earlier in practice. Hoyer’s veteran presence is a positive for the others, and he went nine-for-11 on throws during live drills, but it’s hard to imagine him beating out Stidham or Newton, whose upside is noticeably higher.
– We are still waiting to see N’Keal Harry pop on the practice field. He looks leaner, and his feet are moving quicker. Plus, he’s much more violent in his releases at the line and fought through contact on a deep curl nicely to make a catch on JC Jackson. However, the explosive plays through the air aren’t there yet. He’s still struggling to run away from the Pats starting secondary and hasn’t gotten the chance to make contested grabs down the field. Part of it might be a lack of targets in practice, but you’d like to see more from Harry. He’s in great shape, but now he needs to make plays.
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– Gunner Olszewski ran his best vertical route that I’ve ever seen from him during an early 11-on-11s period. Olszewski stemmed his route like he was going to fade up the sideline, gave Myles Bryant a little fake, then broke it off on the post for a long touchdown from Hoyer. Gunner continues to work a decent amount on the outside and in the slot and is making plays. Until Jeff Thomas gets on the field, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Gunner doesn’t make the roster at this stage.
– Damiere Byrd was once again heavily involved. He had some ups and downs, like rounding his route off, allowing Michael Jackson to undercut it for an interception. But he corrected his mistake by beating Jason McCourty on a similar play, fighting through contact and making a tough grab along the sideline. He then beat Justin Bethel on a post route, but Newton threw it just a little too far. Byrd is in the mix.
– During practice, I tweeted that Mohamed Sanu’s route running stands out above the rest, and that’s true, although Edelman wasn’t out there. Sanu’s smooth transitions at the top of his routes and attention to detail to hit his landmarks are impressive. You tell him to run a 10-yard out, he runs a 10-yard out, breaking at ten yards and coming downhill through the top of his break. He’s a great mentor for N’Keal Harry and the other young Pats wideouts.
– Damien Harris continues to stack good days together and might be New England’s best skill player through two days. He made a nasty jump-cut in the hole to get away from Josh Uche early in practice, and then capped things off with a one-handed snag on an angle route during goal-line work. Harris’s vision between the tackles to set up blocks and make cuts into space continues to garner praise from running backs coach Ivan Fears. Plus, he was heavily involved as a receiver in the first two days of pads. Harris is making the most of his opportunities with Michel and Miller on the sideline.
– Rex Burkhead had a strong day, and his decisiveness to get north/south on outside zone runs stands out. Burkhead’s got burst, veteran savviness, and a versatile skill set. Although Harris looks good, Rex is New England’s most complete back, and maybe their best all-around runner.
– Start the training camp hype train for rookie tight end Devin Asiasi. He’s heavily involved in practice, caught a few balls up the seam on Tuesday and one crosser over the middle, and was greeted by the entire tight end group including coach Nick Caley for a great pass set on a max protect play-action drop-back. Asiasi is doing it all, quickly, and the quarterbacks are loving targeting him between the numbers. He also caught a touchdown late in practice from Newton on the goal line. We’ll see if it translates into production during the season, but Asiasi is off to a great start.
– Fellow rookie Dalton Keene isn’t tearing up practice quite like Asiasi, but he’s had some flashes as a vertical route-runner. The Patriots aren’t scheming much in practice, so it’s a lot of basic concepts that don’t necessarily amplify Keene’s skill set. Hopefully, we’ll start to see him used creatively later this week or next week.
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– Another solid day for the four returning starters on the offensive line. The Patriots punched in back-to-back runs on the goal line, one behind Joe Thuney and Isaiah Wynn, and the other off of Shaq Mason’s block. The offensive line won the first two days of running periods against the Pats defense.
– Jermaine Eluemunor continues to factor in at right tackle, where he played in college at Texas A&M. He looked decent in two-on-two drills and isn’t sinking the line during run periods. His foot speed is a little underwhelming for an offensive tackle, but he’s a strong dude that has a similar look to him as Marcus Cannon, who was also more of a guard body type at right tackle.
– Pats 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste is trying to get his footing here. He’s had a rough two days of practice and is taking a lot of coaching. Cajuste can drive guys off the ball, but he’s struggling with leveraging and hand placement, which is hopefully correctable. He has a long way to go.
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– Tyler Gauthier is struggling. He got beat a few times in interior one-on-ones and doesn’t have the foot speed to redirect pass rushers. Froholdt has fared better and could back up David Andrews at center and fill in at guard.
– Michael Onwenu is a large human, and he’s moving people off the ball. I can’t wait to see how he develops over the next few seasons. He’s got all the tools if he can keep his weight down.
– Deatrich Wise got some run today as an edge setter in New England’s base defense, and he even got some love from Bill Belichick on an excellent run stop. If he can continue to stack plays like that together, he’ll be in the mix for early-down work in the defensive line rotation.
– Lawrence Guy came in and wrecked a few running plays all on his own. Here’s my daily note reminding everyone how good he is at football.
– Bill Murray, and Byron Cowart, among others, had a rough day on the DL. Belichick himself got on them during a run game period. Cowart still has a lot of support from the coaching staff, but he needs to keep getting vertical to make plays behind the line.
– Josh Uche continues to be heavily involved and is rotating through the various linebacker spots. He made a nice play to shoot the gap and force the runner into the pile. There’s some explosiveness there that pops when they let him come forward.
– Undrafted rookie Scoota Harris had a few good moments in practice. Harris made a goal-line run stop late and then contained Newton on a bootleg action much to the delight of Belichick. He’s making an early impression in an Elandon Roberts-like role.
– Brandon Copeland had another strong practice as an early-down edge setter and made Belichick proud a few times by setting the edge of the defense. He isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done. He reminds me a little of John Simon in that regard.
– There were still stretches where the Pats secondary had the clamps on New England’s receivers. Gilmore is locking everyone down, JC Jackson and Jason McCourty are in everyone’s hip pocket and causing tough catches, and Jon Jones is doing his thing. I love watching this group.
– Stephon Gilmore had his first interception of camp jumping over Devin Ross to win at the catch point. We still haven’t seen anyone beat Gilmore through two days of practice.
– Newly acquired corner Michael Jackson made the first interception of Pats camp by jumping a Jarrett Stidham pass to Damiere Byrd. Jackson showed good instincts to read out Byrd’s break and anticipate the route. He’s got some upside with good length and ball skills.
– Undrafted rookie Myles Bryant got put into a few tough spots but didn’t have a good day. He got beat badly by Olszewski and let Sanu sneak behind him. His role will likely change to fit his skill set better.
– Pats top pick Kyle Dugger is having a very impressive start to camp. Dugger’s interception in seven-on-seven’s came with him in centerfield at free safety. He saw Stidham loading up to throw the bomb, found Byrd, and arrived early enough to make it look like he was fielding a punt. Although the interception was nice, Dugger had an excellent run fit during 11-on-11s that would’ve been a flashy tackle if it was a live tackling rep. His versatility and athleticism are on full display. Best rookie in camp so far.
– Adrian Phillips got an extended look today during team drills. He didn’t do anything notable, but like Terrence Brooks, seems to fit in nicely with what they do at that position.
– We got some live punting during today’s session, and Jake Bailey put on a show. He landed three punts at the one-yard line that gave his gunners plenty of time to down the ball. The whole team was jacked up. He put on a clinic.
– Returning Bailey’s Boomers was Olszewski, J.J. Taylor, and Isaiah Zuber. On kickoffs, the Pats had Kyle Dugger, Taylor, and Damiere Byrd back deep. These aren’t fully live yet, but it’s good to see Dugger get a chance at returning kicks, where he was so dangerous in college.
– We didn’t get to see Justin Rohrwasser kick today. The Pats did a half-speed walk-through of the field goal operation, but Rohrwasser didn’t kick the ball.