FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick delivered a clear message during New England Patriots organized team activities Thursday: Everything must be earned.
And in cornerback JC Jackson’s case, re-earned.
Jackson finished his 2018 season as a starting cornerback. Yet he was lined up with the reserves during the first OTA session, while Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones worked with starters. Jackson made the most of his opportunities Thursday, breaking up two passes in 11-on-11 drills.
Rookie cornerback Joejuan Williams also stood out with the reserves, intercepting rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham and making a pass breakup. Defensive tackle Adam Butler also had an interception against quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Here are the rest of our observations:
— Missing from the first open OTA session were punter Ryan Allen, quarterback Tom Brady, safeties Patrick Chung and Nate Ebner, running backs Sony Michel and Nick Brosette, long snapper Joe Cardona, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, offensive linemen Yodny Cajuste and Isaiah Wynn, defensive ends Michael Bennett and Deatrich Wise, tight end Austin Seferian Jenkins and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
— With Wynn and Cajuste absent and Jared Velheer retired, left guard Joe Thuney was the first-team left tackle. Brian Schwenke took over for Thuney at left guard.
— Fielding punts were wide receivers N’Keal Harry, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Phillip Dorsett, Ryan Davis and an unknown rookie wideout wearing No. 72. Cornerback Jonathan Jones and running back Rex Burkhead also took reps late.
— Former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk and wide receiver Troy Brown were assisting the coaching staff.
— The Patriots’ rookies wore numbers between 50 and 72. Players didn’t have Patriots decals on their helmets. The message: Players have yet to earn anything at this point in the offseason.
— Hoyer was 9-of-13 with an interception during team drills. Danny Etling was 6-of-12, while Stidham was 6-of-13 with an interception. With Brady absent, Hoyer was the No. 1, Etling No. 2 and Stidham No. 3. Etling also worked with the kickoff team. Anything to make the team.
— First-round pick N’Keal Harry made some nice grabs in 11-on-11s. He also dropped a pass, however.
— The Patriots have a tight end battle with Rob Gronkowski retired. Matt LaCosse stood out most in Thursday’s session. Ben Watson also made a nice catch. We didn’t see Ryan Izzo targeted, and rookie Andrew Beck got a tongue-lashing from a coach at one point.
— Gilmore and free safety Duron Harmon made pass breakups in team drills.