FOXBORO, Mass. — New England’s first open practice without Cam Newton (hand injury) was a good one for Patriots quarterbacks.
Highlight plays of the organized team activities session came on deep throws from quarterback Brian Hoyer to wide receiver Isaiah Zuber and tight end Devin Asiasi and QB Jarrett Stidham to wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson.
Hoyer (11-of-13 on the day) also hit wide receiver Kendrick Bourne in tight coverage to the sideline. Stidham (11-of-14) completed a similar pass to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Rookie Mac Jones was 6-of-8 but completed his first passes to wide receivers in a practice open to the media. He also was sacked.
The order of reps for most of the day went Stidham, Hoyer and Jones, respectively. Jones was the No. 2 behind Newton in the Patriots’ first open OTAs session.
We’re about three months away from making any truly informed opinions about Jones, so ignore the positive and negative hot takes. So far, he looks like a rookie, and that’s fine. It makes perfect sense that Hoyer and Stidham have outperformed him in two straight open practices. Stidham, in particular, has strung together two nice sessions. Of his three incompletions, one was dropped and one came when his hand was batted at the line of scrimmage.
— The following players were absent from Thursday’s practice:
QB Cam Newton
RB Brandon Bolden
RB Sony Michel
WR Nelson Agholor
WR Devin Smith
TE Jonnu Smith
LT Isaiah Wynn
DT Lawrence Guy
DT Byron Cowart
LB Terez Hall
OLB Ra’Shod Berry
CB Stephon Gilmore
K Nick Folk
— Linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Cameron McGrone were limited.
— Newton, Agholor, Guy and Berry were newly missing after practicing last week. Newton hurt his hand in last Friday’s practice.
— Running back Rhamondre Stevenson, wide receiver N’Keal Harry, offensive tackle Trent Brown, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, outside linebacker Matt Judon, cornerback JC Jackson and safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips returned after being absent from practice last week. Brown, Hightower, Judon, Jackson, McCourty and Phillips also weren’t present for the Patriots’ first open OTAs session two weeks ago.
— Hightower didn’t take many reps off in his return to the practice field after skipping the first two weeks of OTAs and opting out for the 2020 NFL season. He looked spry and was heavily involved on defense in his first practice since the 2019 season.
— Safety Kyle Dugger, running back J.J. Taylor and wide receiver Marvin Hall returned kickoffs.
— Taylor, Hall, Boune, Tre Nixon, Meyers and Gunner Olszewski were back for punts.
— With Brown back at practice, we saw Michael Onwenu continuing to move between tackle and guard, two positions he played in 2020 with the Patriots.
— Assistant coach Troy Brown continues to stay with wide receivers — not running backs, his listed role — in individual drills.
— Wilkerson and Bourne dropped passes.
— Defensive back Jalen Mills broke up a pass from Stidham intended for Olszewski.
— New England has a variety of options to rush the passer on third down. Some combination of Hightower and fellow linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Judon and Josh Uche would be dangerous this season.
— Uche fires off the line of scrimmage in 11-on-11 drills. It’s tough to put much stock in pass-rush reps in unpadded, non-contact practices when offensive linemen can’t even really block, but Uche’s speed stands out on nearly every one of his reps.
— Meyers continues to look like one of the best players on the field. Don’t be surprised if he maintains last season’s role as a starter in 2021.