Patriots Observations: How Cam Newton’s Return Shifted QB Reps

Newton was back on the field after a five-day absence

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FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots practiced in front of fans and reporters Thursday for the final time in 2021, joining the New York Giants for a second joint practice session outside Gillette Stadium.

Here are our observations from that practice, which featured the return of quarterback Cam Newton:

ATTIRE
Full pads.

ATTENDANCE
Did not participate:
QB Jarrett Stidham
WR N’Keal Harry
CB Stephon Gilmore
CB Justin Bethel
S Joshuah Bledsoe
LB Cameron McGrone
LB Terez Hall
TE Matt LaCosse
TE Kahale Warring
DT Nick Thurman
DT Byron Cowart

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

Quarterback Cam Newton, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, left tackle Isaiah Wynn and linebacker Josh Uche all returned to practice.

Newton missed the last three practices due to a “misunderstanding” about COVID-19 testing protocols. Uche missed Wednesday. Agholor and Wynn left early Wednesday.

Warring was a new absence. He made his Patriots practice debut Wednesday after being claimed off waivers from the Houston Texans.

Henry and Bolden did not participate in 11-on-11 drills.

INJURY REPORT
Center David Andrews and cornerback Jonathan Jones both left the field during practice and did not return. Jones could be seen limping toward the medical shed with head trainer Jim Whalen.

QUARTERBACK REPORT
Mac Jones’ electric performance during Wednesday’s joint practice did not win him the starting quarterback job. Not immediately, at least.

Newton returned from his five-day absence and immediately regained his spot atop the Patriots’ QB depth chart, taking first reps in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

Newton went 2-for-3 during a brief 7-on-7 period, connecting with Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers and having a sideline pass to Nelson Agholor broken up by cornerback Rodarius Williams. Jones went 1-for-2 in 7s with a gorgeous lofting touchdown pass to J.J. Taylor, a breakup on a pass to Agholor and a rep that was wiped out by defensive pass interference.

The teams tweaked the setup of 11-on-11s for this practice, morphing them into a sort of game situation. The Patriots’ offense got a total of three series. Newton took the first. Jones led the next two.

Newton saw a relatively light workload, going 4-for-7 on a drive that ended in a Damien Harris touchdown run. He split his completions between Jakobi Meyers (first two) and Kendrick Bourne (second two). He threw one pass away while getting bowled over by Andrews, had another batted at the line and had a third broken up while targeting Kristian Wilkerson.

Jones then took over and guided the Patriots’ first-team offense on a 20-play roller-coaster of a drive — 21 if you count the ensuing two-point conversion. The rookie started poorly with a breakup on his first attempt and an interception on his second. Jones tried to hit tight end Jonnu Smith on a deep over, but ex-Patriot Logan Ryan undercut the route and took it the other way.

After practice, Jones said Ryan and New York’s other safeties were “messing around a little bit more and trying to show different looks.”

Jones’ third pass was batted at the line as the pocket collapsed around him. He responded with consective completions to Smith and Agholor, but his next two fell complete, one via breakup on a pass behind his intended receiver.

A 2-for-7 start. Not ideal, and a far cry from the efficiency Jones displayed on Wednesday.

The second half of that marathon drive featured some more positive moments. After a short completion to James White, Jones scrambled to avoid a Giants rush and fired to White again to move the chains on fourth-and-7. It was one of three fourth downs the QB converted, with another finding Bourne at the sticks along the left sideline and a third going to Meyers, who held on for a contested catch against safety Xavier McKinney.

During this sequence, Gunner Olszewski, Harris and Smith all dropped well-placed passes from Jones. Olszewski’s would have gone for a big gain down the sideline, similar to drops Wilkerson and Harry had on Jones passes in the first two preseason games. Smith would have been able to walk in for a short touchdown.

Jones eventually did bring his team into the end zone, floating a touchdown pass to Bourne on third-and-goal from the 11. Bourne, who’s enjoyed a strong week of practice and a solid camp overall, showed off some nifty footwork to get both down in bounds.

Meyers added the two-point conversion on a quick out. Jones finished the drive 10-for-21 with an interception, three drops and five pass breakups.

The third and final possession for the Patriots’ offense was much shorter. With Jones staying in and the second offensive line entering, New England went three-and-out after two Harris handoffs and an incompletion to Meyers. The wideout was tripped up on the play and argued for a penalty, but none came.

Third-stringer Brian Hoyer did not take any reps in competitive team drills.

With practices closed to reporters and the public from here on out, our last look at the Newton-Jones battle will come Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. We’ll see how Bill Belichick opts to divide his quarterback reps in that final preseason tuneup.

ASSORTED NOTES
— Loud music blared over the speakers during Jones’ long drive, simulating a “road game” environment. The tunes were off during Newton’s series.

— Uche closed out training camp with a phenomenally productive practice, notching at least three “sacks” and drawing a holding penalty during 11-on-11 drills. The 2020 second-round draft pick has been one of the Patriots’ top performers this summer and should be a defensive difference-maker if he can stay on the field.

— It was a positive day for the Patriots’ entire front seven, with a large portion of New York’s offensive snaps resulting in either a sack or a penalty.

One particular play featured a Kyle Van Noy sack, a drawn hold by a defensive linemen and a Devin McCourty interception on a deep Daniel Jones heave.

— Earlier, Giants fullback Eli Penny caught a short touchdown pass in front of McCourty, who might have pulled up as the ball arrived. This prompted Ryan — McCourty’s former teammate with the Patriots and at Rutgers — to race onto the field and heckle the veteran safety.

— Matt Judon had some trash talk (accompanied by hip-shaking dance moves) for Giants wideout Sterling Shepard after he snuffed out an early screen pass.

— Newton ran in from behind the play to celebrate Bourne’s touchdown from Jones. He also handed the ball to a fan behind the end zone, as he’s done after his own scores throughout camp.

— Meyers and Bourne each caught 4 of 5 targets in 11-on-11 drills, with Meyers adding another catch in 7-on-7s. Across the two joint practices, Patriots quarterbacks were 21-for-24 when targeting either of those two wideouts in team drills.

Agholor, who left Wednesday’s practice early, finished caught just one pass Thursday, with defenders breaking up his other three targets.

— Jalen Mills and Joejuan Williams continued to split reps at outside corner in Gilmore’s absence. With Gilmore still on the physically unable to perform list and Jones now injured, as well, the Patriots reportedly swung a post-practice trade for Baltimore Ravens rookie cornerback Shaun Wade.

— Before Jones left with his injury, he was flagged for defensive pass interference and was the closest defender in coverage on a long completion to Dante Pettis.

— Undrafted rookie kicker Quinn Nordin converted the Patriots’ lone field-goal attempt.

— Ryan was involved in Jones’ flashiest highlight of the week and his most glaring lowlight.

On Day 1, he and cornerback Darnay Holmes were in coverage on Jones’ long touchdown pass to Meyers. On Day 2, he made Jones look like a rookie on his interception.

After practice, the former Patriots cornerback praised the young signal-caller.

“I think he’s a good young quarterback,” Ryan said. “Pretty smart with what he does. I hear he’s a hard worker, and I know the guys like him.”

This was a week of reunions for Ryan, head coach Joe Judge and the various other ex-Patriots on the Giants’ roster and coahcing staff. After his presser, Ryan stopped to give former teammate Dont’a Hightower a hug.

New England Patriots linebacker Josh Uche, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen
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