How Mac Jones, Tre Nixon Built Connection Long Before Spring Breakout

'He's a grinder'

by

June 10

The two biggest standouts from this week’s mandatory Patriots minicamp were members of New England’s 2021 draft class.

One was quarterback Mac Jones, the promising first-round pick who seems to have made improvements to his conditioning, leadership and deep passing as enters Year 2.

The other? Wide receiver Tre Nixon, the eighth and final player the Patriots selected last year (seventh round, 242nd overall).

Nixon spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad with no gameday elevations, but he flashed in both minicamp practices, pulling down three eye-popping deep balls from Jones and catching all 10 of his targets in competitive 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

Speaking Thursday after the Patriots canceled their third and final minicamp session, Jones raved about his unheralded draftmate, saying he and Nixon became quite close as they navigated their rookie season.

“Tre came in with me,” the QB said in a video conference. “We used to drive to the facility every day together last year and then take our COVID test and go to work. He’s a grinder. In the offseason, he’s there with all the guys at the throwing sessions. I don’t think he missed a single one, and he’s been grinding. He needs to continue to do that just like everybody else.”

With Kendrick Bourne excused from one minicamp practice and Jakobi Meyers limited in both, Nixon saw additional reps with the first-team offense and impressed with his speed and sure hands. Often lining up inside, he twice beat top slot cornerback Jonathan Jones for long completions, including a 60-yarder that Nixon hauled in with only his right hand.

“He adds that good speed to the group,” Jones said. “He’s a nice complement, and hopefully he’ll be able to continue to grow like everybody else and we can kind of have a full group here where we can substitute in and out and let those guys go make the plays.”

Nixon, who also repped as a punt returner and punt gunner this week, was the Patriots’ breakout spring star, but his push for a 53-man roster spot is just beginning. He’ll need a similarly strong summer if he hopes to stick in a deep position group that includes veterans Bourne, Meyers, DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor, roster-lock rookie Tyquan Thornton and fellow hopefuls Kristian Wilkerson, N’Keal Harry and Malcolm Perry.

Meyers on Thursday predicted a fierce competition for roster spots within that unit, saying there’s not a “big skill gap” between the top and bottom of New England’s wideout depth chart. Jones concurred.

“I think our receiver group has done a great job this spring coming together,” the quarterback said. “We have a really good balance between speed and route-running ability and blocking defenders in the run game and all that. We have a very good group of guys.”

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