Patriots Minicamp Observations: Mac Jones’ Deep Ball Shines On Day 1

Jones started with 23 straight completions

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FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots held their first of three mandatory minicamp practices Tuesday outside Gillette Stadium. Here’s everything we observed during that session:

ATTIRE
Helmets and shorts.

ATTENDANCE
The following players were not spotted at practice:

WR Kendrick Bourne
K Nick Folk
K Quinn Nordin
DT Byron Cowart
OL Chasen Hines
OL Andrew Stueber

Unlike in voluntary organized team activities, teams are allowed to fine players for missing minicamp practices, but head coach Bill Belichick said all of Tuesday’s absences were excused.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and wide receiver N’Keal Harry all returned to practice after choosing to skip OTAs.

A number of notable players were limited Tuesday, including offensive tackle Trent Brown, who arrived from a separate rehab field roughly 30 minutes into practice and saw limited reps. Running back James White, tight end Hunter Henry, center James White, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and rookie cornerback Marcus Jones all sat out all or part of competitive team drills, with Jones, who’s recovering from double shoulder surgery, wearing a red non-contact jersey.

QB REPORT
What a day this was for Mac Jones.

Per NESN.com’s charting, the second-year quarterback went a perfect 14-for-14 in 7-on-7 drills and 11-for-12 in 11-on-11s. Jones, New England’s unquestioned No. 1 signal-caller, opened the day with 23 consecutive completions before misfiring to Nelson Agholor on his third-to-last attempt.

Included in Jones’ completions were three highlight-reel deep balls: a 50-yard bomb to wideout Tre Nixon over slot corner Jonathan Jones; a 25-yarder down the sideline to DeVante Parker, who made a nice contested catch over Jalen Mills; and a 20-yard corner to tight end Jonnu Smith, who beat Adrian Phillips.

All three were impressive throws by a player whose arm strength has been questioned.

Veteran backup Brian Hoyer went 4-for-6 with a pass breakup and a drop (by rookie running back Kevin Harris) in 7-on-7s, and 3-for-7 with an interception and three PBUs in 11s. Third-string rookie Bailey Zappe was 6-for-7 with an ugly interception to linebacker Jahlani Tavai in 7s and 1-for-3 in 11s, with a deep-ball breakup by Joejuan Williams that should have been picked.

Jones and Zappe were two of the last players off the field after practice.

PLAY OF THE DAY
Jones’ heave to Nixon was a beauty, beating tight coverage by Jonathan Jones. Nixon lined up in the slot on the play, ran a corner route and created just enough separation from the speedy cornerback for Jones to drop the ball in.

“(The throw was) amazing,” said Nixon, who made a sliding catch that left him with a scrape on his knee. “I can’t complain. He put it right on the money.”

With Bourne absent and Meyers limited, Nixon, who spent all of last season on the Patriots’ practice squad, saw an uptick in reps with the offensive starters and performed well, catching all five of his targets (four from Jones) in competitive team drills. He also saw reps as a punt gunner.

Roster spots will be hard to come by in the Patriots’ veteran-laden receiving corps, but the 2021 seventh-round draft pick has stood out positively in all three of the Patriots’ open practices to date.

“Wherever the team needs me to make a play, I’ll do it,” Nixon said.

Other standout plays included the aforementioned completions to Parker and Smith. Running back Damien Harris also had a nice catch up the seam, snatching the ball over linebacker Cameron McGrone.

ASSORTED NOTES
— In a notable shift, Wynn played right tackle in his first practice of the spring rather than his usual left. He’s seen some time at guard but has lined up almost exclusively at left tackle since joining the Patriots in 2018, never playing a snap at right tackle. Brown played left tackle — his position in 2018 — in his limited reps Tuesday.

While this could be simple experimentation by the Patriots, their willingness to change Wynn’s position ahead of his fifth season suggests big changes could be coming to their O-line. Wynn also remains a possible preseason trade candidate, as doing so would wipe his entire $10.4 million salary off New England’s salary cap.

Wynn also received extensive 1-on-1 instruction from offensive line coach Matt Patricia during one 7-on-7 period.

When Brown sat out, Yodny Cajuste played left tackle on the top offensive unit.

— Harry’s return to practice was … less than stellar. Most of his reps came with Zappe and the third-string offense, and he caught just one of his four targets in competitive team drills.

During one period, Harry was part of a small group of skill players that ran prescribed routes against the Patriots’ top defensive backs while the rest of the offense repped full 11-on-11 drills, indicating his place in the team’s wide receiver hierarchy.

On his final rep, he was too easily outmuscled by Mills for a pass breakup — a problem that has plagued the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wideout throughout his career. He can’t be viewed as anything other than a roster long shot as training camp approaches.

— Judon and Christian Barmore — the Patriots’ top two pass rushers from last season — teamed up to sack Jones in 11-on-11s.

— Myles Bryant, Jack Jones and Kyle Dugger returned punts during practice, with Jones muffing one. Marcus Jones, Ty Montgomery and Malcolm Perry took reps there after practice.

The Patriots are in search of a new return man after losing Gunner Olszewski in free agency.

— Director of player personnel Matt Groh said on draft night the Patriots would see how Tyquan Thornton can contribute on special teams, and he saw a lot of work as a punt gunner Tuesday, receiving active coaching from special teams assistant Joe Houston.

Thornton caught one Bailey punt just shy of the goal line, showing off his renowned speed.

— Punter Jake Bailey, who will look to fend off a challenge from undrafted rookie Jake Julien this summer, was on point Tuesday, with at least two of his punts drawing cheers from his fellow special teamers.

— With Folk and Nordin both M.I.A, the only kicker at practice was Tristan Vizcaino, who was invited on a tryout basis.

Folk attended last week’s open OTA, but reporters have yet to spot Nordin on the field this spring.

— Smith had to run a lap after a false start in 11-on-11s.

— A brief scuffle broke out on the final play of practice after cornerback Nelson Agholor ripped the ball from Agholor’s hands after a Jones completion. Rookie guard Cole Strange and Judon both were at the center of the scrum, which quickly dissipated.

— Belichick is not dialing back his activity as he enters his eighth decade.

At various points during practice, the 70-year-old coach could be seen snapping the ball to Mac Jones, covering running backs in the flat and lining up in the backfield during a defensive drill.

— Retired director of football research Ernie Adams — who, in his final act as an official Patriots employee, drafted Nixon last spring — was on hand for practice. Nixon said the two caught up afterward.

UP NEXT
Patriots minicamp continues Wednesday before concluding Thursday.

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