Patriots Joint Practice Observations: Big Day For Ex-Eagle Nelson Agholor

Plus: Another tight end goes down


Aug 16, 2021

PHILADELPHIA — The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are sharing a practice field this week. Here’s everything we observed at Monday’s joint practice at the NovaCare Complex:

Full pads.

Did not participate:
QB Jarrett Stidham
K Nick Folk
CB Stephon Gilmore
S Joshuah Bledsoe
DB Myles Bryant
LB Cameron McGrone
LS Joe Cardona
LB Anfernee Jennings
LB Terez Hall
TE Jonnu Smith
WR Tre Nixon
DT Lawrence Guy
DT Byron Cowart

TE Hunter Henry

Smith, who suffered a reported low ankle sprain during Sunday’s practice, was present but not in pads.

Bryant, Nixon and Guy have missed the last two practices after playing in last Thursday’s preseason game. It’s unclear what’s sidelining Folk and Jennings, neither of whom played against Washington.

Gilmore, Stidham, Hall and Cowart remain on the physically unable to perform list. Bledsoe and McGrone are on the non-football injury list.

Henry was at practice in pads but split from the main field after warmups to train with strength coach Moses Cabrera. He’s still recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered last Sunday.

The Patriots’ tight end depth got even shallower when, on the fifth rep of 11-on-11s, Matt LaCosse was laid out by Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett on a shallow crossing route. Quarterback Cam Newton’s throw led LaCosse into Barnett, and the tight end went down in a heap on the turf.

“No one wants to see their teammate … laying on the ground after a play,” Newton said after practice. “By no means did I intend to have any type of disaster on that play.”

After being examined by team trainers, LaCosse walked off toward the locker room and did not return. His injury left New England with just two available tight ends: Devin Asiasi and Troy Fumagalli, plus fullback Jakob Johnson.

That depleted group combined for just one catch in competitive 11-on-11 drills: by Fumagalli on a late checkdown from Mac Jones. Asiasi, who missed the first 1 1/2 weeks of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19, has yet to catch a pass in 11-on-11s this summer.

It was an uneven day for both starting quarterback hopefuls, but Jones was the sharper of the two, hooking up with wide receiver Nelson Agholor for multiple long completions early in practice. Jones, who’s consistently gotten the ball out quicker than his veteran counterpart this summer, went 5-for-6 with a drop during a 7-on-7 period and 12-for-19 in 11-on-11s. Newton went 4-for-6 in 7s with two passes broken up by linebackers and 9-for-16 in 11s.

Jones’ deep ball to Agholor in his second round of 11-on-11s was the best throw by either QB — a perfectly placed rainbow that landed over the wideout’s outside shoulder after he’d gained separation from cornerback Zech McPhearson. One play later, Jones drifted to his right, spotted an open Bourne in the left flat and threw across his body for a nifty completion.

But, as has been the case in several training camp practices, Jones’ effectiveness and accuracy waned during the second half of practice. He had poorly placed or ill-advised throws to Kristian Wilkerson, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski and Sony Michel during a late two-minute drill but rebounded with a 20-yard touchdown pass to N’Keal Harry on his final rep of the day.

Newton, conversely, kicked off his two-minute drill with his best stretch of practice, finding Agholor, Agholor and Bourne for three consecutive completions. He stalled in the red zone, however, attempting to force two passes to a heavily covered Asiasi in the back of the end zone. The first was broken up. The second was intercepted by linebacker Eric Wilson.

“Last play, it was third down and we were down by 4,” Newton said after practice, explaining the game scenario. “Rather than taking a sack, you have to give someone a chance. That’s all that pretty much was. I know our job is to protect the football, but given the circumstances, with seven seconds left, (I was) trying to give my guy a chance.”

Nearly all of Newton’s reps Monday came with the Patriots’ starting offensive line and against the Eagles’ first-team defense. Jones primarily worked behind the second-team O-line and against Philly reserves. Both QBs shared the top receivers and running backs.

— This had to have been an enjoyable day for Agholor, who was the Patriots’ top offensive performer in his return to Philadelphia.

After an ugly drop in 1-on-1s that drew jeers from some of the Eagles fans in attendance, Agholor, who practically was run out of this city after the 2019 season, went on to catch five of his six targets in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. The lone incompletion came after he was tripped up by a defensive back, prompting an appeal to a nearby official for a defensive pass interference call.

Agholor has battled injuries and inconsistency in his first Patriots camp, but this practice showed how dangerous of a deep threat he can be for New England. That’s what the Patriots are banking on after signing him to a hefty two-year, $22 million contract this offseason.

“I’m super happy with the opportunity I have to be a Patriot,” Agholor said after practice. “I think I have a great coaching staff and a great opportunity in front of me.”

— Bourne also caught all but one of his targets in team drills, going 6-for-7. His single incompletion was the result of a miscommunication between him and Jones. Based on the reactions of Jones, Bourne and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the wideout appeared to be the one at fault.

As Jones addressed reporters after practice, Bourne yelled “Love you, Mac!” over the crowd.

Bourne said he entered this week especially motivated, both to atone for what he viewed as a poor performance in New England’s preseason opener and to show the Eagles, who showed moderate interest in him in free agency, what they’re missing.

— Meyers, the Patriots’ best wideout since the start of camp, ran the wrong route on one of Newton’s aforementioned end-zone incompletions. He also had a drop on 7-on-7s. Meyers fared well in 1-on-1s against Eagles defensive backs, though, winning all three reps we observed.

— Harry went a perfect 5-0 in 1-on-1s we observed but largely was quiet in 11-on-11s until his touchdown that ended practice. He became noticeably frustrated at one point, screaming an expletive after Newton did not look his way on a particular play.

— Kristian Wilkerson had a bad drop to kick off Jones’ two-minute drill and finished without a catch in team drills. It was one of his roughest days of camp to date.

Wilkerson thrust himself into roster contention with a strong start to training camp, but his drops are becoming problematic. The 2020 practice squadder also had two incompletions that hit off his hands in last Thursday’s game.

— The Patriots employed a liberal backfield rotation, giving all six of their running backs reps with both Newton and Jones. This was a notable shift from previous practices, when J.J. Taylor and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson worked almost exclusively with the scout team.

Taylor and especially Stevenson both played well last week against Washington, with the latter punctuating the Patriots’ preseason opener with a 91-yard touchdown run.

Philadelphia’s formidable D-line led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham dominated New England’s ground game early Monday, but the Patriots were able to gain a bit more traction as practice wore on.

— Outside linebacker Matt Judon continued his disruptive streak, returning a tip-drill interception for a touchdown and registering multiple “sacks.” Judon also blew up a swing pass to running back Boston Scott. New England’s most expensive free agent addition has looked as advertised this summer and should provide a major boost to the Patriots’ front seven.

— Inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley also intercepted one pass and nearly hauled in another. Not typically known for his coverage skills, Bentley has gotten his hands on a lot of throws this summer.

So has fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who had another batted pass Monday.

— With Guy out, rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore saw an uptick in reps with the first-team defense. Barmore also bodied offensive lineman Kayode Awosika in one particularly impressive 1-on-1 rep.

— Linebackers Josh Uche and Chase Winovich ran penalty laps for unseen infractions.

— The Eagles’ sideline delighted in heckling Patriots defensive back Jalen Mills, who played the last five seasons in Philly. Eagles players got on Mills after he was penalized during a punt-return period and again when he was whistled for a false start during 11-on-11s.

— Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts had the best day of any quarterback. His speed is really something. On one play, he saw Uche — perhaps the Patriots’ most athletic front-seven defender — come in unblocked off the edge and easily dashed around him for a first down.

— There was a strong Alabama flavor at Monday’s practice. Jones, Hurts, Patriots running back Damien Harirs, Eagles wideout DeVonta Smith and Eagles offensive lineman Landon Dickerson all played together in Tuscaloosa.

The five posed for a photo after practice.

— That brace on Jones’ knee? According to him, it’s not the result of any particular injury.

“I just wanted to try it out for protective reasons,” the QB said after practice. “I think it’s a good idea as a quarterback just to have that on your left, front knee. So I’m going to give it a go and see how it feels. It’s pretty good. I’m getting a different one tomorrow, just trying some different things.”

— Patriots cornerback Michael Jackson broke up a pass in 11-on-11s and made a great play to snuff out a wide receiver screen. But he also was flagged for defensive pass interference and allowed a late touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to reserve wideout Andre Patton.

Yes, the 36-year-old Flacco still is in the league, now with his fourth team in four seasons. His throw that beat Jackson was one of the prettiest of the day.

— These teams will be back on the practice field Tuesday morning ahead of their preseason matchup Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
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