Patriots Joint Practice Observations: Mac Jones Dazzles Vs. Giants

It was Jones' best practice as a Patriot

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FOXBORO, Mass. — The clear star of Wednesday’s New England Patriots-New York Giants joint practice was the man wearing No. 10.

Here are our observations from an oppressively hot morning on the Gillette Stadium practice fields, headlined by Mac Jones’ most impressive performance yet:

ATTIRE
Full pads.

ATTENDANCE
Did not participate:
QB Cam Newton
QB Jarrett Stidham
WR N?Keal Harry
CB Stephon Gilmore
CB Justin Bethel
S Joshuah Bledsoe
LB Cameron McGrone
LB Josh Uche
LB Terez Hall
TE Matt LaCosse
WR Tre Nixon
DT Nick Thurman
DT Byron Cowart

Limited:
TE Hunter Henry (red non-contact jersey)
DB Myles Bryant (red non-contact jersey)
RB Brandon Bolden (red non-contact jersey)

Bolden returned to practice in a limited capacity, giving the Patriots a full complement of running backs. Bolden wasn’t much more than an observer, though, sitting out all competitive drills. The team traded Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams before practice.

Newton again was out as he works his way back from his COVID-19 “misunderstanding.” He’s expected to return for Thursday’s practice, according to head coach Bill Belichick.

Uche and Bethel were new absences. The former left last week’s preseason game with an injury but practiced Monday and Tuesday. Bethel’s wife reportedly was expecting, which could explain the special teamer’s absence.

Henry upped his level of participation, taking part in 7-on-7 drills but not 11-on-11s.

New tight end Kahale Warring made his practice debut, wearing No. 88. The Patriots claimed Warring, a 2019 third-round draft pick, off waivers from the Houston Texans on Wednesday, reportedly beating out claims from the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts.

INJURY REPORT
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and left tackle Isaiah Wynn both left practice during 11-on-11 drills and did not return. The reasons for their departures were unclear.

Agholor and Wynn both are projected starters in the Patriots’ offense. In a notable development, 2019 third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste slotted into Wynn’s spot on the first-team offensive line in his absence.

2020 sixth-rounder Justin Herron has been projected as New England’s top backup at that spot. Cajuste has yet to play a regular-season snap in his NFL career.

QUARTERBACK REPORT
Newton’s COVID protocol slip-up opened the door for Jones. The rookie quarterback barged through it Wednesday with the best practice of his New England Patriots tenure.

Jones was surgically efficient Wednesday, carving up New York’s first-team defense in the first of two Patriots-Giants joint practices outside Gillette Stadium. He completed 12 of 14 passes in 7-on-7 drills (85.7 percent) and 22 of 26 in full-team 11-on-11s (84 percent) while ceding just four competitive reps to third-stringer Brian Hoyer.

During one stretch, Jones completed 18 consecutive passes to seven different receivers across multiple periods. He was 15-for-17 in 11-on-11s at one point before a couple of late incompletions.

“He’s working extremely hard,” veteran running back James White said after practice. “He’s getting a lot of reps now. He’s taking control of the huddle and just trying to do the best he can, just making sure everybody is on the same page so we can go out there and execute not just for one period, but throughout the entire practice.”

Some of Jones’ best work came during two-minute situations. He capped one by connecting with White on a wheel route, perfectly placing a pass on the running back’s back shoulder as he outraced linebacker Blake Martinez.

Later, during a two-minute drill that closed out practice for the Patriots’ offense, Jones delivered his finest completion of the day: a 35-yard rainbow to Jakobi Meyers in the corner of the end zone. Meyers beat safety Logan Ryan and cornerback Darnay Holmes on the play. Jones followed that up by lofting a pass to a wide-open White for a two-point conversion.

A less explosive Jones highlight came earlier in that same drive. Seeing Jabrill Peppers flying through the center of the line on a safety blitz, Jones dashed to his right and zipped a pass to Isaiah Zuber along the sideline, displaying the awareness and quick release that have been hallmarks of his game this summer.

Jones’ most glaring mistake came early in practice when he underthrew a crossing Agholor, resulting in a near-interception by safety Xavier McKinney. The QB also was flagged for delay of game on one 11-on-11 rep and took a coverage sack in 7s. Later, he yelled out in frustration after a Giants D-lineman swatted down a pass intended for running back Damien Harris. (Jones appeared to be angry at himself for not setting the protection correctly.)

These errors were few and far between, however. In our view, here’s what happened on Jones’ six incompletions:

7-on-7s:
-Complete to Henry in the back of the end zone, but the tight end only got one foot down
-Held the ball a tick too long before throwing to Agholor, broken up by starting cornerback James Bradberry

11-on-11s:
-Underthrown by Jones, near-INT by McKinney
-Batted at the line, intended for running back Harris
-Slightly low and wide to a diving Kendrick Bourne across the middle (Bourne later called this a drop)
-Throwaway on a goal-line rep

Of the 40 passes Jones attempted, the McKinney breakup was the only one that could be classified as a blatantly “bad” throw. That’s a superb performance by a first-year quarterback against an unfamiliar opponent’s top defense.

“I think Mac is doing a good job, taking leadership, controlling everybody, having everybody in the right place and stuff like that,” Bourne said. “Making the team be a real team. (He’s) doing a real great job of it.”

The sweltering practice capped a week of steady improvement for Jones, who struggled in Newton’s absence Monday, then turned in a much sharper outing Tuesday. Was it enough to push him past Newton in the Patriots’ QB hierarchy? We’ll find out Thursday.

Hoyer attempted just one pass Wednesday and handed off three times.

ASSORTED NOTES
— Nick Folk went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts. Quinn Nordin did not attempt any kicks in competitive situations.

— Jones was 12-for-13 when targeting Meyers or Bourne in team drills. They’ve been the Patriots’ two most consistent receivers throughout camp. Bourne also caught Hoyer’s lone completion.

Jones also was 4-for-4 on passes to Gunner Olszewski (excluding one incompletion that was wiped away by a defensive hold) and 5-for-5 on throws to Kristian Wilkerson.

Wilkerson’s star has faded since his hot start to camp, but he saw a lot of reps Wednesday with Agholor and Harry sidelined and had his best day in weeks.

— Tight end Jonnu Smith continued to be a reliable target for Jones, catching all three of his targets.

— Safety Kyle Dugger had an interception on a terribly thrown ball by Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, but he also was in coverage on at least two touchdown passes. Man coverage continues to be an issue for the Patriots’ top 2020 draft pick.

— Running back J.J. Taylor impressed as a pass-catcher in 1-on-1 drills, shaking linebacker Carter Coughlin with a well-run route on one rep and beating Coughlin deep on another.

Taylor also has caught all eight of his targets across two preseason games. Could he be next in line for the Rex Burkhead dual-threat role this season?

White, Harris and fullback Jakob Johnson also ran nice routes to lose ‘backers. Johnson, who saw action at tight end last week when injuries depleted that group, said he wants to be a “German Army knife” who can contribute in multiple ways for the Patriots.

— During one goal-line period late in practice, the Patriots scored on four consecutive plays, with Jones following up touchdown runs by Rhamondre Stevenson and Taylor with TD passes to Olszewski and Harris.

— Olszewski, who was targeted on two Jones interceptions Tuesday, made one of the day’s more impressive receptions when he pulled down a contested grab in front of Peppers. The Giants safety was a heat-seeker, laying out White and Meyers with hits that could prompt some retaliation on Thursday.

— We didn’t see much from Warring in his first Patriots practice, but he did lay out for a nice diving catch from Hoyer in 2-on-2 passing drills.

— A full-scale melee broke out between Patriots offensive linemen and Giants defensive linemen during 1-on-1s. We didn’t catch what started the scrum, but every player from both units joined in, forming one giant pile of bodies at one end of the field. Wynn and tackle Korey Cunningham were spotted at the bottom as the pile dispersed. Both position groups ran a lap as punishment, but no players were ejected.

Asked about the scrap after practice, Patriots center David Andrews said the involved parties were “just talking.”

About what?

“Baseball,” he deadpanned.

— Before the brawl, right tackle Trent Brown scored a decisive 1-on-1 victory over edge rusher Oshane Ximines, stonewalling him and then tossing him to the ground. In another notable rep, rookie Will Sherman was beaten badly by Giants D-tackle Willie Henry.

— The Patriots and Giants will be back on the practice field again Thursday morning at 10 a.m. ET. That will be the last Patriots practice open to fans or reporters this season.

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