The Patriots practiced at a slower pace during today’s second open OTA for reporters, which Bill Belichick chalked up to a productive Monday. There wasn’t much to glean in terms of performance without contact or full-speed reps, but there were some interesting nuggets regarding the potential depth chart at this point and some colorful moments on the field.
Here are my observations from Tuesday’s practice.
CHRISTIAN GONZALEZ DEBUTS
First-rounder Christian Gonzalez made his debut in front of reporters today, and it looks like he’ll hit the ground running this season. He was a fixture at outside corner, with Jonathan and Jack Jones rotating opposite. While there weren’t many plays to be made today, Gonzalez did make an impressive one-handed catch during high-point drills.
MARTE MAPU FLEXES HIS VERSATILITY
After playing to his roster designation as a true linebacker last week, Marte Mapu lined up at safety for most, if not all of today’s practice. While I don’t see the 6’3″ defender lining up at centerfield this season, Mapu has the experience and athleticism to play in the secondary or the box. It will be interesting to monitor where he spends most of his time as camp progresses
ATONIO MAFI RISING QUICKLY
Mauler Atonio Mafi seemed like a potential successor to Mike Onwenu when the former UCLA guard was drafted, and we saw a glimpse of that today. With Onwenu out of practice, Mafi spent a lot of time next to David Andrews, which was not the case during last week’s open practice. Mafi was considered one of the most talented players on the Bruins’ roster last season as a former nose tackle with incredible feet for his massive build. It will be tough to crack New England’s starting lineup barring injury, but he has the tools to become a top backup at either guard spot.
RECEIVER GROUP THIN DESPITE NEW SIGNING
The Patriots were thin at wide receiver today with Tyquan Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, and JuJu Smith-Schuster either not present or not participating in team drills. This left Tre Nixon, Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte, and new undrafted free agent signing Ed Lee as the team’s primary wideouts.
There weren’t many notable moments from this group in a slow-paced practice, but Bill O’Brien did have some words for Boutte when the rookie failed to line up properly during one drill. Learning moment for the first-year player.
An altercation between Cole Strange and Anfernee Jennings resulted in a scrum where Christian Barmore took a jab at Strange’s helmet. Barmore and Strange spent the rest of practice on the sidelines, which was surprising given players typically leave the field after such infractions.
- Undrafted free agent and special teams ace Jourdan Heilig ran through gunner drills with Matthew Slater early in practice.
- Chris Board appears to be replacing Raekwon McMillan as a top backup at linebacker. As another rangy defender who can hit like a ton of bricks, Board will likely be competing with Marte Mapu for snaps at WILL and dime linebacker.
- Defensive tackle turned guard Bill Murray seems to be progressing well in year four. His athleticism has popped in preseason games, but he was still clearly working on the mental transition. We’ll see how much he’s caught up once the pads come on.
- Late-round pick and return specialist Isaiah Bolden spent more time at corner than I expected, especially considering Ameer Speed didn’t seem to get any such reps. Bolden led Jackson State in defensive snaps played last season and has outstanding traits for the position.
The Patriots will hold their next open practice this Friday.