Patriots Practice Notes: Observations From New England’s ‘Game Simulation’

The Patriots held a different sort of training camp practice Friday


FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots shifted their training camp operation inside Gillette Stadium on Friday for a “game simulation.”

Head coach Bill Belichick split New England’s 80-man roster into two teams, with Cam Newton taking control of Team Blue and Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer commanding Team White.

The two squads squared off on the Gillette game field for roughly three quarters, with players entering from separate tunnels and retreating to their respective locker rooms at “halftime.” Three game officials also were brought in for the occasion.

With COVID-19 wiping out the NFL preseason, Friday’s practice was an opportunity for the players to experience some semblance of a game-day schedule.

It did not feature anything resembling game speed, however.

Players did not wear pads, plays were run at slightly above a walkthrough pace and defensive players did not contest throws or aggressively rush the passer.

Here’s everything we saw in Friday’s practice:

Attire: Helmets and shorts, though some players opted to wear game pants

Absent: OLB Chase Winovich, LB Cassh Maluia, WR Will Hastings, RB Lamar Miller

This was the first absence of training camp for Winovich, who’s in contention for Kyle Van Noy’s old starting spot on the edge.

Physically unable to perform list: Miller

Did not participate: DT Beau Allen, S Devin McCourty, S Adrian Phillips, CB Michael Jackson

Friday was Allen’s first appearance in front of reporters in a Patriots uniform. The long-haired D-tackle, who was absent for the team’s first 10 open practices, watched this session from the sideline, as did McCourty, Phillips and Jackson.

More notes:

— Most of the Patriots’ bigger-name offensive players were assigned to Newton’s squad, including wide receivers Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry; running backs Sony Michel and James White and New England’s top offensive line.

Tight ends Ryan Izzo and Dalton Keene, fullback Jakob Johnson, running back J.J. Taylor, receiver Isaiah Zuber and guard Michael Onwenu also were part of Team Newton. Keene, Taylor, Zuber and Onwenu are rookies.

Running backs Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris, wide receivers Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers and rookie tight end Devin Asiasi were among the players teamed up with Stidham and Hoyer.

— The defense was split more evenly.

Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, for instance, joined defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and linebacker Josh Uche on Team White, while linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and John Simon joined cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones and safety Kyle Dugger on Team Blue.

— Newton, who’s emerged as the clear favorite in the Patriots’ quarterback competition, got six series during practice. Stidham and Hoyer each got 2 1/2. Fourth-string rookie Brian Lewerke got zero.

— Meyers practiced in a red non-contact jersey. He’s been limited for much of training camp.

— Left guard Joe Thuney practiced with a large wrap on his left hand/wrist after suffering an injury during Thursday’s practice.

— Jerod Mayo (defense) and Josh McDaniels (offense) called plays for Newton & Co. Steve Belichick and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch called plays for the Stidham- and Hoyer-led White team.

— The kicker competition between rookie Justin Rohrwasser and Nick Folk continued.

Rohrwasser went 2-for-5 on field-goal attempts, hitting from 50 and 49 and missing from 51 (wide left), 51 (short) and 49 (wide right). Belichick iced him on two of those attempts, blowing the whistle just before the snap. Rohrwasser’s 49-yard miss came as time expired in the “fourth quarter.”

Folk, who’s looked like the more competent kicker since he re-signed with the Patriots last weekend, hit from 50 yards and missed wide right from 48.

— For the “Bill Belichick prepares his team for everything” file: On the second-to-last series, Hoyer was instructed to simulate a leg injury to force Stidham to abruptly enter the game. The Patriots’ offense committed a penalty on Stidham’s first snap.

Hoyer sold the fake ailment well, limping all the way to sideline as Stidham jogged out.

— The Patriots pumped simulated crowd noise over the Gillette Stadium speakers. The result was eerie — the overlapping sound of thousands of disembodied voices is surprisingly unsettling — but effective.

With the fake crowd noise on at full blast, reporters sitting roughly six feet apart were having trouble hearing one another through their masks.

— Patriots practices now likely will be closed to the media for the remainder of the 2020 season.

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