Patriots Training Camp: Observations From New England’s First Practice

It wasn't the sharpest showing from New England's QB hopefuls


Jul 28, 2021

FOXBORO, Mass. — Summer’s over. Time for football.

The New England Patriots held their first training camp practice of the 2021 season Wednesday morning outside Gillette Stadium. Here’s everything we saw during that session:

Helmets and shorts.

NFL rules prohibit teams from wearing full pads during the early stages of training camp. The Patriots can’t hold their first full-contact practice until next week.

Did not participate
QB Jarrett Stidham (physically unable to perform list)
CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP)
LB Brandon King (PUP)
TE Dalton Keene (PUP)
LB Chase Winovich (PUP)
RB Rhamondre Stevenson (non-football injury list)
LB Cameron McGrone (NFI)
LB Anfernee Jennings
LB Terez Hall (PUP)
S Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI)
TE Devin Asiasi (reserve/COVID-19 list)
DT Byron Cowart (PUP)

LB Kyle Van Noy (red non-contact jersey)

Van Noy and offensive tackle Trent Brown both practiced, indicating they had been removed from the PUP list.

Gilmore is in the midst of a contract dispute, but he continues to rehab at the Patriots’ facility. He, Winovich, Stevenson, Bledsoe and Cowart could be seen watching the tail end of practice from the sideline.

Versatile defensive back Jalen Mills saw the largest uptick in reps in Gilmore’s absence.

With Stidham absent, Cam Newton, Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer handled all quarterback reps Wednesday.

Newton took first reps in each team period, followed by Jones and then Hoyer. The team did give Jones — who is competing with Newton for the starting job — an extra series during one round of 11-on-11s.

Day 1 of camp was a mixed bag for both QB1 hopefuls, with Newton completing 5 of 11 passes in 11-on-11s with two interceptions and Jones going 8-for-15 with a few misfires and one pass batted down at the line by defensive tackle Davon Godchaux.

Newton was at fault on one of his two picks (more on that below). The other bounced off running back James White’s hands and straight to linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

The final practice period was especially shaky for Newton and Jones. They both completed just two of their final six throws.

Hoyer saw extended work with the reserves and actually finished the day with the most passing attempts, going 8-for-17 in 11-on-11s.

Newton went 3-for-4 during the lone 7-on-7 period. Jones was 1-for-4.

Safety Adrian Phillips did a number on New England’s highly touted tight end duo, registering end-zone pass breakups on throws to Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Phillips also intercepted a goal-line pass by Newton that was thrown well behind Henry.

“That’s my guy right there,” said Phillips, a former teammate of Henry’s with the Los Angeles Chargers. “We had a lot of battles out in L.A. together, and it was no different. I don’t know if you could see, he was waving me out there when it was time for the play. Because every time we go against each other, it’s a battle. So it was fun to get one.”

“I have been going against AP for a long time, dating back to the Chargers days in camp, too,” Henry said. “He’s a tremendous football player. Super smart. It’s fun. It was fun to see a familiar face.”

The interception came on Newton’s final throw of the day.

Second-year receiver Kristian Wilkerson elevated over cornerback Dee Virgin to haul in a highlight-reel touchdown from Hoyer. (In Virgin’s defense, the pads he was wearing on his hands limited his catching ability.)

Wilkerson also beat J.C. Jackson for a touchdown from Newton in 7-on-7s. The former Southeast Missouri State standout is vying for a roster spot after spending most of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad.

— One player who flashed during the second half of practice: N’Keal Harry, who recently made headlines with his controversial trade request. The much-maligned wideout separated from Mills to haul in a diving touchdown catch from Newton and later caught a touchdown pass from Jones after losing Virgin.

It would be mildly surprising if Harry is not traded or cut by the end of the preseason, but this was a solid start for the 2019 first-round draft pick.

— Outside of one drop, veteran tight end Matt LaCosse had a nice day. He caught three passes in team drills, more than Smith (one) and Henry (one) combined.

LaCosse, who opted out of last season, needs a strong summer to have a chance of sticking on the roster. He made the most of his opportunities Wednesday with 2020 third-rounders Asiasi and Keene both sidelined.

— Jones and wide receiver Nelson Agholor developed a nice connection during team drills, hooking up for one short touchdown in 11-on-11s and another in 7-on-7s.

On the first, Jones went through a full-field progression before floating a pass to Agholor in the left corner of the end zone. On the second, Agholor ran a slick out route to shake cornerback/special teamer Justin Bethel, eliciting a big cheer from an observing Newton.

— Jones was forced to run a lap during an early team period after fumbling a snap. Offensive tackle Justin Herron also ran a lap, possibly for a false start.

The training camp crowd gave Jones a hearty ovation as he jogged by. Fans were permitted to watch practice Wednesday for the first time since 2019.

— Smith, Henry and Agholor got some extra work in after practice with Newton, Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Second-year linebacker Josh Uche, a spring standout, lined up opposite the tight ends on most of these extra reps.

— Cornerback Michael Jackson surrendered three touchdowns early in practice but bounced back nicely, breaking up a Jones pass and later applying tight coverage on an incompletion to Wilkerson.

— Dont’a Hightower, Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams also registered pass breakups. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Carl Davis would have bagged sacks had defenders been allowed to hit the quarterback.

— Brandon Bolden, Kyle Dugger, Marvin Hall and J.J. Taylor practiced kickoff returns.

— The primary emphasis of this practice was red-zone and goal-line work, with every competitive team period taking place deep in the defense’s territory.

— The Patriots made a number of changes to their coaching staff ahead of training camp. The following coaches are taking on new roles:

Carmen Bricillo: offensive line
Troy Brown: wide receivers/kick returners
Ross Douglas: NFL Coaching Fellowship/defense
Bo Hardegree: quality control/quarterbacks
Josh McDaniels: offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Evan Rothstein: research and analysis/coaching
Vinnie Sunseri: running backs
Billy Yates: assistant offensive line
Matt Patricia: senior football advisor

Douglas, Hardegree, Rothstein, Yates and Patricia are new additions to the staff, with Patricia returning after 2 1/2 seasons as head coach of the Detroit Lions. Brown and Sunseri will work under Mick Lombardi and Ivan Fears, respectively.

Bricillo and Cole Popovich were co-O-line coaches last season. Popovich left the staff before camp, reportedly over a COVID-19 vaccine dispute.

— Newton wore a mask as he took the field before practice. A handful of other players, including Bolden and receivers Marvin Hall and Isaiah Zuber, masked up after finishing their post-practice conditioning.

— The Patriots’ next practice is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
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