Patriots Training Camp Observations: N’Keal Harry Impresses On Day 7

Plus: A bounce-back performance from Mac Jones


Aug 4, 2021

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots held their seventh training camp practice Wednesday. Here are our observations from that session:

Helmets and shells. The Patriots dialed back the intensity one day after their first padded practice of the summer. They’ll be back in full pads Thursday.

Did not participate:
QB Jarrett Stidham (physically unable to perform list)
CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP)
TE Dalton Keene (PUP)
LB Raekwon McMillan
LB Chase Winovich (PUP)
DT Akeem Spence
LB Cameron McGrone (non-football injury list)
LB Terez Hall (PUP)
S Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI)
C/G Ted Karras
TE Devin Asiasi (reserve/COVID-19 list)
DT Byron Cowart (PUP)

LB Kyle Van Noy (red non-contact jersey)

McMillan and Spence were new absences. The former left Tuesday’s practice with an apparent lower leg injury. Defensive linemen Henry Anderson and Christian Barmore returned after sitting out all and part of Tuesday, respectively.

Karras (knee) has missed the last four practices.

Wide receiver Devin Ross appeared to tweak his hamstring on a crossing route that was intercepted by Jonathan Jones. He sat out the rest of practice.

Tuesday’s practice was Mac Jones’ worst of training camp. The rookie was better Wednesday, save for one mid-practice lull.

Over three consecutive reps on 11-on-11s, Jones had a pass bounce of tight end Jonnu Smith’s hands for a Devin McCourty interception, sailed a pass over wideout Tre Nixon that was nearly picked by D’Angelo Ross and tried to fit a throw over the middle to Gunner Olszewski that Myles Bryant broke up.

Jones delivered the best throw of the day minutes later, though, hitting Olszewski for a 50-yard touchdown on a deep post. Olszewski beat Bryant on the play, getting his revenge on the second-year defensive back.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gave Jones the heaviest workload of the four quarterbacks. The first-round draft pick took each of the final 16 11-on-11s reps, going 13-for-18 overall in competitive full-team drills with two drops. Jones received a similar rep bump during Monday’s practice.

Newton went 5-for-7 with an interception in 11s and scuffled through a 7-on-7 period, throwing an interception to J.C. Jackson on his first attempt and having his second broken up by Jackson. Newton was trying to hit Jakobi Meyers on both plays, but his first pass was ill-advised and off-target and his second was late. Later, Newton overshot Nelson Agholor on a deep ball. He finished the drill 2-for-6, including a Sony Michel drop.

Jones went 4-for-5 during his turn, with N’Keal Harry beating Joejuan Williams for two of the completions. He overthrew Kendrick Bourne and James White on his final two reps, but the latter was wiped away by a defensive holding call.

Brian Hoyer went 4-for-6 in 11-on-11s with the aforementioned Jones interception, and fourth-stringer Jake Dolegala saw his first full-team reps of the summer, going 3-for-3 with completions to Tre Nixon, Isaiah Zuber and Olszewski.

The Patriots’ QB competition has been a tug-of-war thus far in camp, with Jones “winning” some practices and Newton taking others. A close contest like this favors the incumbent, since head coach Bill Belichick is unlikely to hand the starting job to Jones unless he clearly outperforms Newton. Both passers have been inconsistent, though, the team’s quarterback play overall has been lackluster.

Harry, who followed up his promising performance Tuesday by catching all six targets he saw in competitive team drills. He beat fellow 2019 draft pick Joejuan Williams twice in 7-on-7s, accounted for nearly a quarter of Jones’ completions in 11-on-11s (three of 13) and registered one of the best receptions of the day, slipping Jackson on a slant and going full-extension to snag a bullet from Newton.

Two disappointing seasons and a controversial public trade request have put Harry under the microscope and — in the eyes of many prognosticators — on the roster bubble, but he’s responded well this summer. This has been a good camp for him thus far.

“N’Keal is a guy that I’ve grown to really admire and love,” receivers coach Mick Lombardi said after practice. “He’s a player on our team and in our room, and I think really highly of N’Keal for how he comes in here and works. I have a great relationship with N’Keal. We are business first. He comes in here and works extremely hard, and I appreciate that.”

Either Jones’ bomb to Olszewski, Harry’s catch against Jackson or a leaping contested grab that Bourne made on a sideline through from Newton. That throw also came against Jackson, who’s handled No. 1 cornerback duties in Gilmore’s absence.

— Jackson, Jones and safety Adrian Colbert tallied interceptions. Colbert blanketed Hunter Henry and capitalized when Newton threw late and behind the tight end.

Newton also likely would have been sacked on the play, as linebacker Harvey Langi came in untouched on a blitz.

— Smith, Michel and fourth-round draft pick Rhamondre Stevenson dropped passes. Asked after practice what Stevenson needs to improve, running backs coach Ivan Fears replied: “Everything.”

Stevenson has had some positive moments since being activated off the NFI list last week, but the Patriots typically like to redshirt their rookie running backs. We’ll see if the Oklahoma product can buck that trend with a strong preseason.

— Among players taking handoffs Wednesday: Smith, who came in motion and received a pitch from Newton during a non-competitive 11-on-11 drill. Versatility is one of the high-priced tight end’s most valuable assets. The Titans occasionally used him at running back during his four seasons in Tennessee.

— Left tackle Isaiah Wynn had to run a penalty lap for a false start.

— While most of the team worked on kickoff coverage and return, Agholor ran routes with the Patriots’ four quarterbacks on a separate field, getting occasional pointers from Lombardi.

— After the Patriots completed their post-practice conditioning, McDaniels brought Jones, Hoyer, Dolegala and most of the Patriots’ offensive skill players back onto the field for some additional passing work. Most of New England’s projected starters worked with Jones during this period.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Adler/ New England Patriots
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