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NASHVILLE, Tenn — The Patriots and the Titans squared off in a competitive first day of joint practices in Nashville on Wednesday morning.
For the Patriots, the wear and tear of training camp is beginning to take its toll as several players were either missing, limited or left the session early.
Linebacker Jamie Collins, tight ends Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse, wide receiver Cameron Meredith (PUP) and rookie offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (NFI) weren’t spotted.
First-round pick N’Keal Harry was in uniform to start practice but didn’t participate, and Harry isn’t the only skill player dealing with an injury.
Joining Harry, Anderson, LaCosse, Meredith, Demaryius Thomas and Julian Edelman are now Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris as both Patriot receivers left practice early.
Dorsett’s injury came when he took a hard fall after hauling in a seam throw from Tom Brady.
The good news is that most of these guys are experiencing the bumps and bruises of a long training camp and shouldn’t miss significant time.
One quick explainer before we get started: the Titans allow media to watch practice from the sideline, which is a cool experience, but limits what you can see. I spent the day with the offense on Wednesday and will transition to the defense on Thursday.
With that in mind, let’s empty the notebook:
1. Tom Brady Looks Like Tom Brady
The six-time Super Bowl champion saved his best camp performance for former teammate Mike Vrabel. Brady was 16-for-22 during competitive team drills making it look easy against a good Titans secondary that includes former Pro Bowlers Kevin Byard and Malcolm Butler, old friend Logan Ryan and 2017 first-round pick Adoree Jackson. Brady threw a rocket through two Titans defenders to complete an in cut to Braxton Berrios, pulled the string on a few back-shoulder throws and hit Phillip Dorsett for a chunk play up the seam. Vrabel tried to throw some blitzes at Brady to see how he’d react, and Brady picked those apart too throwing hot to his running backs in the flat. It’s always good to remind everyone that you’re the GOAT.
2. Wynn Watch: One Play On, One Play Off
The expected starting left tackle for the Patriots continues to rotate at left tackle with Dan Skipper; one play it’s Wynn, the very next it’s Skipper. The good news is that Wynn looks excellent when he’s in there, and based on practice, like a plug-and-play starter. He plays with an aggressive mindset and with terrific technique. He actively looks for work when nobody is rushing directly against him, which was the case during one rep where he cleaned out a Titans linebacker. His footwork continues to be tremendous. In his pass sets, he sets to a perfect depth every time and gives himself a wide base. And in run blocking, he gets into his engagements with perfect timing and upward momentum. Wynn told us after practice that he feels 100 percent, and the only thing holding him back now is the coaching staff as they ease him back into action.
3. Get Ready For a Deep Dig and Back Shoulder Revolution
If the last couple of weeks are any indication, the Patriots offense will rely heavily on deep in-cuts or digs as well as back shoulder throws outside the numbers. The Patriots featured those types of throws heavily during team drills on Wednesday, and they fit with the bigger wide receivers they’ve added this offseason and Brady’s strengths. Brady’s got the pinpoint accuracy and ability to change speeds for these types of passes while N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and others have the catch radiuses and frames to win with defenders around them.
4. Patriots Continue to Experiment With Non-Tight End Packages
The Patriots, partially due to injury and Ben Watson’s four-game suspension, are experimenting with offensive groupings that don’t include a tight end. On Wednesday, the Patriots ran out 10 personnel with four wide receivers. The group was wide receivers Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios, Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris with James White at running back. If you don’t have any good tight ends, why play one at all? That might be the mindset for New England until Watson returns.
5. Dan Skipper Project is Great For Depth at Offensive Tackle
Outside of a few crappy days, Scar is starting to work his magic with Dan Skipper, and that’s great for the Patriots’ depth at offensive tackle. The Pats need bodies at that position, and even if Wynn is the starter, all these reps that Skipper has gotten are extremely valuable for his development. Skipper has the physical tools, like size and foot speed, to play tackle in the NFL. When he keeps his technique, he’s alright. The biggest thing for him is keeping his weight back and lowering his pad level. He’s so big that he can afford to let guys come to him, but he lunges at times, and even if he sits back, he still needs to get his hands on people sooner. Skipper should watch Trent Brown and Nate Solder film to get his technique down as a big tackle.
6. Patriots Play Wide Receiver Roulette
In part due to injury and weather, it was hot as hell in Nashville, the Patriots played wide receiver roulette on Wednesday. Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis and Gunner Olszewski all saw first-team reps with Tom Brady. None of these guys stood out much, and all of them struggled on the whole to separate.
7. Three Up, Three Down
Three Up: WR Maurice Harris, OL James Ferentz, RB Brandon Bolden
Harris – after a few down days, Harris made two catches in team drills on old friend Logan Ryan working out of the slot. Brady hit Harris on two out routes against Ryan where Ryan struggled to get around the Pats wideout to break up the pass. Harris left practice early with an injury, though.
Ferentz – Ferentz isn’t going to “wow” anyone with athleticism, but as a coach’s son, his technique is solid. Ferentz’s hands are excellent. He’s always resetting them to maintain positioning and keeps his outside hand above his inside hand to create force in his upper body. He’s a solid depth piece.
Bolden – can we give a little love to Brandon Bolden the running back? He ran hard against the Lions in the preseason opener and has a great feel for the holes in his blocking. Bolden made an excellent cut off of David Andrews’s block on an outside zone handoff to find the crease and break into the second level. Bolden is likely a roster lock due to his special teams value and leadership, but he is also playing well.
Three Down: WR Damoun Patterson, S Duron Harmon, OL Ted Karras
Patterson – the speedy wideout made a great adjustment on a back-shoulder throw with Adoree Jackson in coverage, but struggled to separate against top competition. Patterson has the best chance to make the roster out of a group that includes him, Gunner Olszewski and Ryan Davis. So his reps with the first-team offense were noteworthy.
Harmon – if you’re looking for surprise cuts, the Pats safety is on the shortlist. Harmon’s experience in the system and nose for the football might put him on the 53, but his instincts and anticipation are below average as a centerfielder.
Karras – I’m not jumping off the Ted Karras bandwagon by any means, but he struggled a bit on Wednesday. The Pats backup on the interior was called for multiple penalties during team drills, had a poor snap to Jarrett Stidham and struggled in one-on-ones. He was yapping back and forth with Vrabel about the holding calls.