Patriots Minicamp Observations: Young Wideout Pops Again On Day 2

Another big day for Tre Nixon


FOXBORO, Mass. — Here’s a rundown of everything we observed Wednesday on Day 2 of mandatory New England Patriots minicamp:

Helmets and shorts.

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne returned to practice following his excused Day 1 absence. The following players were not present:

K Nick Folk
K Quinn Nordin
OL Chasen Hines
OL Andrew Stueber
DT Carl Davis
DT Byron Cowart

Davis was the lone new addition to that list.

Wideout Jakobi Meyers, tight ends Hunter Henry and Dalton Keene, running back James White and safety Jabrill Peppers all were limited, spending a good portion of practice on the rehab field. Center David Andrews and offensive tackle Trent Brown also continued to have lighter workloads.

Rookie cornerback Marcus Jones, who’s recovering from double shoulder surgery, was in a red non-contact jersey for the second straight day.

Mac Jones wasn’t quite as sharp as he was Monday, but this was another strong day for the Patriots’ starting signal-caller. Jones went 13-for-15 in 7-on-7 drills and 6-for-9 in 11-on-11s. Two of those five incompletions were drops, including one off Bourne’s hands that resulted in a Malcolm Butler interception.

Jones’ effectiveness on deep balls has been one of the more notable developments of minicamp. He’s excelled on downfield throws, going 4-for-5 Wednesday on passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air. All four were into tight windows, with Tuesday standout Tre Nixon hauling in two more bombs, Jonnu Smith making a leaping grab over Kyle Dugger and Nelson Agholor diving to haul in a 40-yarder just inside the left sideline.

Brian Hoyer went 5-for-6 in 7s and 3-for-3 in 11s. Rookie Bailey Zappe, who’s looked a tad erratic thus far, completed 6 of 7 passes in 11s but badly underthrew Kristian Wilkerson on a deep pass that was intercepted by fellow draftee Jack Jones. Zappe was 3-for-4 in limited 7-on-7 action.

For the second straight day, this came courtesy of Nixon, who’s been the breakout star of minicamp thus far.

The second-year receiver’s 35-yard reception against Shaun Wade on an early 7-on-7 rep prompted a hip-thrusting celebration from Mac Jones, but his subsequent one-handed, 60-yard catch to beat top slot corner Jonathan Jones sent the Patriots’ offense into hysterics, with Mac Jones sprinting downfield to celebrate with the 2021 seventh-round pick. Nixon also beat Jonathan Jones deep for the standout play of Tuesday’s practice.

As we wrote after Day 1, Nixon’s odds of snagging a roster spot remain slim given the veteran talent above him, and a long-shot Patriots wideout fading into obscurity after a strong spring is an almost-yearly occurrence. But the Ernie Adams favorite has seen significant reps with the first-team offense this week with Meyers limited, and he’s made the most of his chances thus far.

Nixon also returned punts Wednesday after working as a gunner the previous day.

— It’s not uncommon for the Patriots to invite college coaches to watch offseason or preseason practices, or for Bill Belichick to chat with them on the field. It is rare, however, for Belichick to spend as much time with a visiting coach as he did with Utah State defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda on Wednesday.

After bouncing around to multiple positions groups early in practice (safeties, then quarterbacks, then running backs, then cornerbacks), Belichick spent nearly the entire second half of the session chatting with Banda while watching his team from afar.

It’s unclear whether Belichick had any prior connection to Banda, who spent five years coaching safeties and defense at Miami before landing at Utah State last offseason. But this prolonged conversation was notable given how hands-on Belichick was in the Patriots’ first three open practices.

— Matt Patricia appeared to be calling offensive plays during 11-on-11 drills. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe earlier this week reported Patricia is the “early favorite” to handle those duties this season, but that Belichick had not made his final decision.

— For the second straight day, Isaiah Wynn repped at right tackle with the first-team offense, with Trent Brown playing on the left side. Wynn never has played right tackle in an NFL game, and he said after practice he never did in college, either, only doing so in a handful of practices as a Patriots rookie.

Belichick wouldn’t entertain questions about this major offensive line shift during his pre-practice news conference, saying only that this is the time of year to build roster depth.

The Patriots’ interior O-line trio appears all but set with David Andrews at center, Mike Onwenu at right guard and rookie Cole Strange at left guard. Veteran James Ferentz has subbed in at center for most competitive periods with Andrews coming off shoulder surgery.

— Smith has been the Patriots’ headlining tight end this week with Henry limited, and he’s enjoyed a strong minicamp thus far. Before his acrobatic catch over Dugger, he beat Adrian Phillips for a big gain in Tuesday’s practice.

— It’s hard to identify any favorites in the Patriots’ wide-open cornerback competition at this point. Nearly every member of that position group has seen first-team action, including Jack Jones, who had an eventful Day 2.

Nelson Agholor beat the aggressive Arizona State product for multiple receptions, including the aforementioned heave down the sideline, but Jones also punched the ball out of Agholor’s hands to force a fumble and had the interception against Zappe.

Listed at just 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Jones acknowledged he needs to add weight but said he plays bigger than his size. That’s been evident in these practices. His ball skills are impressive.

— Strange wrapped Butler in a bear hug after the cornerback’s late interception. The rookie’s intensity has been clear to see in these spring practices, but he nearly sparked a fight Tuesday when he dove at Matthew Judon’s legs while trying to recover a fumble. He might want to dial things back a bit at the end of plays to avoid drawing the ire of his veteran teammates, at least until the pads come on this summer.

— Nixon, Bourne, Jack Jones and Malcolm Perry returned punts in practice. Bourne and Perry had to run laps after muffs, and Jones was briefly shaken up after diving on one return. He may have gotten the wind knocked out of him, as he quickly returned to full participation.

Ty Montgomery and rookie Pierre Strong returned kicks. Strong’s elite 4.39 speed makes him an intriguing option for that role.

Fellow rookie running back Kevin Harris got an earful from special teams coordinator Cam Achord after blowing a blocking assignment on one kick return.

— Montgomery, who’s worked mostly with the wide receivers in the practices reporters have watched, took reps at running back Wednesday. He’s seen extensive action at both positions in his career.

— With Folk and Nordin both absent for the second consecutive day, the Patriots’ only two kickers were two free agents in for tryouts: Tristan Vizcaino and an unidentified player wearing No. 8.

— Looking for a favorite to continue the Patriots’ streak of keeping at least one undrafted rookie on their Week 1 roster? Our top choice would be Brenden Schooler.

Schooler hasn’t seen much action at his listed position of defensive back, but the former Texas safety/wideout has worked closely with special teams aces Matthew Slater and Cody Davis, splitting off from the defense to run through kicking game-specific drills.

The Patriots lost a lot of special teams talent this offseason (Brandon Bolden, Brandon King, Gunner Olszewski, Jakob Johnson, Chase Winovich) and Slater and Davis likely are approaching the end of their careers at age 36 and 33, respectively. New England needs to restock there, and the uber-athletic Schooler is a prime candidate. He’ll need to stay healthy, though, as he was limited during OTAs.

— Taking a page out of Cam Newton’s book, Mac Jones broke out some dance moves — including an emphatic air guitar — as Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” blared over the speakers during the Patriots’ pre-practice stretch.

That song choice likely was inspired by a special guest at practice: Jon Bon Jovi, who could be seen chatting with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

The Patriots will wrap up minicamp on Thursday. They have two more OTAs scheduled for next week (one of which will be open to the media) before breaking for the summer.

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