FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots practiced without top quarterback Cam Newton on Monday, creating a prime opportunity for rookie Mac Jones to push for the Week 1 starting job.
Here’s a look at how Jones fared in Newton’s absence, along with other observations from Monday’s Patriots practice:
Did not participate:
QB Cam Newton
QB Jarrett Stidham
WR N’Keal Harry
CB Stephon Gilmore
RB Brandon Bolden
S Joshuah Bledsoe
DB Myles Bryant
LB Cameron McGrone
LB Terez Hall
TE Matt LaCosse
WR Tre Nixon
DT Byron Cowart
TE Hunter Henry
LB Anfernee Jennings
DT Lawrence Guy
Tight end Jonnu Smith was a full participant after sitting out last week with an ankle injury. Kicker Nick Folk, long snapper Joe Cardona, cornerback Jonathan Jones and linebacker Josh Uche also returned.
Henry, who’s working his way back from a shoulder injury, split off from the main practice field after warmups.
Harry suffered a shoulder injury last Thursday that reportedly will sideline him for the next month.
Cornerback Dee Virgin and defensive tackle Nick Thurman both got checked out by head trainer Jim Whalen midway through practice but later returned to the field.
Newton will be sidelined until at least Thursday due to what the Patriots called a “misunderstanding” about COVID-19 testing. According to a team statement, Newton traveled outside the New England area over the weekend for a “club-approved medical appointment,” and though he tested negative for COVID-19 each day, those tests were not taken at the Patriots’ facility.
Because of this, Newton must complete a “five-day entry cadence process” before he can rejoin the team. This indicates the QB is not fully vaccinated, as only unvaccinated players are required to test daily.
With Newton unavailable, the vast majority of reps in team drills went to Jones, who impressed in last Thursday’s preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles (13-for-19, 146 yards with three drops and a spike). He was less consistent Monday.
Jones completed 17 of 31 passes in 11-on-11 drills, including an ugly 1-for-6 start against the Patriots’ first-team defense. He also struggled during a goal-line period against the defensive 1s, going 1-for-4 with a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. Jones closed practice by going 4-for-7 during a two-minute drill (also against defensive starters), capping it with a short touchdown to Gunner Olszewski. Cornerback J.C. Jackson was in coverage on both scores.
During a brief 7-on-7 period, Jones went 4-for-5 with three completions to running backs. Overall, he threw fewer catchable passes than he has in most recent practices.
Third-stringer Brian Hoyer went 4-for-10 in 11-on-11s and did not participate in 7-on-7s. During Hoyer’s two series, Jones kneeled on the sideline, flanked by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree and injured QB Jarrett Stidham.
Jones can expect heavy workloads again Tuesday and Wednesday. The latter will be an especially important day for the rookie signal-caller, as that’s the first of two joint practices with the New York Giants. Newton’s reentry timetable should set him up to participate in Thursday’s joint practice and Sunday’s preseason finale.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Jones’ final two-minute drill included a slick one-handed catch by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who was tightly covered by Jackson on the play.
— Late in the first half of last week’s preseason game, a clock management error by Jones forced the Patriots to spike the ball on third down and then punt.
McDaniels called that play — a dump-off to running back J.J. Taylor in the middle of the field with no timeouts remaining — “a good situation to learn from” and took responsibility for not repping those scenarios enough in practice.
On Monday, they did just that, with McDaniels spending a portion of practice working with Jones and the offense on clock management.
This might have been an emphasis on a few of Jones’ 11-on-11 reps, as well — taking a quick incompletion rather than holding the ball and draining clock — which could explain some of his misfires.
— Folk practiced for the first time since Aug. 4 and quickly regained his top kicker status. He was the only player to attempt a field goal during team drills, going 3-for-5. His misses — both wide left — were from roughly 35 to 40 yards out.
Undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin appeared to be making a strong push for Folk’s job earlier in camp, but his case for a roster spot took a major hit when he missed three kicks in last Thursday’s game.
— Agholor received a team-high 10 targets from Jones during team drills and caught just four of them. Bourne saw nine targets from Jones — all in 11-on-11s — caught five and dropped one.
It was an oddly quiet day for Jakobi Meyers, who’s been the team’s best and most consistent wideout throughout the summer. His lone target — an incompletion with Jonathan Jones in coverage — came on Mac Jones’ fourth rep of 11-on-11s.
Meyers, Agholor and Bourne are expected to begin the season as New England’s top three receivers.
— Jones went 2-for-3 when targeting Smith, who also saw one incomplete target from Hoyer. The big-money tight end missed both joint practices with the Eagles last week with an ankle injury but appeared to practice with no limitations Monday. That’s good news for the Patriots offense.
— The Patriots continued to cycle all of their running backs through with the starting offense. The third play of 11-on-11s was a handoff to rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who’s put together two strong preseason performances.
Stevenson later dropped a pass from Hoyer.
— Long-shot wideout Devin Ross had two drops from Hoyer.
— Jonathan Jones, Kyle Dugger, Dont’a Hightower, J.C. Jackson and Michael Jackson all broke up passes. Joejuan Williams was in tight coverage on two sideline incompletions to Agholor.
— Henry Anderson and Ja’Whaun Bentley had “sacks.”
— Offensive tackle Justin Herron ran a penalty lap for an unseen infraction. Herron appears to be the Patriots’ top backup at left tackle behind starter Isaiah Wynn. Yodny Cajuste, a 2019 third-round pick who has yet to play a regular-season NFL snap, has seen increased work at right tackle behind Trent Brown.
— Olszewski and running back J.J. Taylor practiced punt returns.
— After post-practice hill sprints, Patriots quarterbacks and interior linemen returned to the field to practice QB sneaks, diving forward in unison onto an oversized pad.
— Tuesday’s practice will be closed to the public. Both joint practices with the Giants will be open to fans and will begin at 10 a.m. ET.