Nine Takeaways From Patriots Training Camp After Final Open Practice

What we learned from 12 Patriots training camp practices

by Zack Cox

August 31, 2020

New England Patriots training camp officially wrapped up Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots will continue to practice as their Sept. 13 season opener approaches, but reporters no longer will be permitted to watch and chronicle those sessions.

The team’s 12 open practices taught us plenty about the 2020 Patriots, though. Here are our nine takeaways from Pats camp:

1. Cam Newton will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback
Head coach Bill Belichick has yet to officially announce Newton as Tom Brady’s successor, but that’s a foregone conclusion at this point. The Patriots’ QB competition — a legitimate battle at the outset of camp — effectively ended when Jarrett Stidham suffered an injury Aug. 20.

From then on, Newton commanded the majority of QB reps in every practice, with Stidham taking a backseat to both him and Brian Hoyer. Assuming he returns to the field quickly after his excused absence from Monday’s practice, expect to see Newton behind center in Week 1. Belichick would not talk like this about a backup quarterback:

2. Damien Harris is a breakout candidate
Harris, who essentially redshirted as a rookie, was one of the top performers in camp and could open the season as New England’s lead back. That’s far from a guarantee, though, as Sony Michel has looked quick and decisive since coming off the physically unable to perform list last week. Veteran Lamar Miller also was activated off PUP on Monday after missing all of training camp.

3. Tight end remains a question mark
Third-round draft picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene both have shown potential as well-rounded tight ends, but neither looked like the unquestioned No. 1 option in camp. Nor did incumbent Ryan Izzo, though the 2018 seventh-rounder likely did enough to stick on the roster for another season. Tight end was a black hole for New England in 2019. This group really could use a proven veteran to hold down the fort while Asiasi and Keene settle in. A late trade or waiver-wire pickup remains a possibility.

4. Tackle depth is suspect
Offensive tackle is another position that could benefit from some outside reinforcements. Jermaine Eluemunor looks poised to start at right tackle — a position he hasn’t played since college — and Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham and Justin Herron haven’t looked like desirable swing tackle candidates. Rookie Mike Onwenu could factor into that equation, as well, and he hasn’t played tackle since high school. Isaiah Wynn is the locked-in starter on the left side, but he’s played in just eight games in his two NFL seasons and didn’t practice Monday. The depth here is perilously thin.

5. The Patriots need N’Keal Harry to produce
Gunner Olszewski looked like the second-best Patriots receiver in training camp. While that’s great for Olszewski, who almost certainly will be on the 53-man roster when it’s finalized this Saturday, it’s not an ideal sign for New England’s receiving corps as a whole. The Patriots desperately need improvement from Nos. 2/3 wideouts N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu after eschewing big-name additions in free agency and the draft. Harry, who’s coming off a disappointing rookie season as a first-round draft pick, showed flashes of brilliance in camp but also missed three practices and lacked overall consistency. For the Patriots’ offense to thrive in the post-Brady era, Julian Edelman cannot be the team’s only reliable wideout.

6. Rookies should play key roles on defense
Kyle Dugger appears to be in the mix for a starting spot at safety. Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings should see considerable playing time at linebacker — Uche especially. Expect to see a lot of new or inexperienced faces in a defense that lost Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Patrick Chung, Danny Shelton, Duron Harmon and Elandon Roberts this offseason. Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Shilique Calhoun, Byron Cowart and Joejuan Williams all could see expanded roles, as well.

7. Unanswered questions at safety
Who replaces Chung? Who replaces Harmon? We still don’t know for certain, as injuries to Dugger, Adrian Phillips and starting free safety Devin McCourty have clouded this roster battle. Dugger recently returned to full participation, but Phillips has not taken part in team drills since the first week of camp. Terrence Brooks has stayed healthy and had a nice summer, and cornerbacks Williams and Jonathan Jones both have the versatility to play safety, too. Expect to see a lot of moving parts on the back end.

8. Justin Rohrwasser looks like a whiff
No Patriots player looked more overmatched in training camp than Rohrwasser, who converted just four of his 11 field-goal attempts over the final two practices. It would be a major upset if New England chose to roster the fifth-round rookie over veteran Nick Folk, who was solid for the Patriots in 2019 and has looked far more capable than Rohrwasser since re-signing last weekend.

9. The UDFA streak could end
At least one undrafted rookie has made New England’s initial 53-man roster in each of the last 16 seasons. That run could be over. Running back J.J. Taylor was one of the top-performing UDFAs in camp, but his chances of making the team took a significant hit when Miller was activated. Cornerback Myles Bryant was another, but he’s part of the Patriots’ deepest position group. Intriguing wideout Jeff Thomas was a popular roster pick earlier in the summer, but he missed a good chunk of camp and hasn’t shown much in practice. Neither have defensive tackle Bill Murray or linebacker Scoota Harris. The lack of preseason games has made it especially difficult for undrafted players to stand out this summer. We expect many of these rookies to populate New England’s expanded practice squad.

Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots

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