FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots held their fourth training camp practice Saturday outside Gillette Stadium. Here’s everything we observed:
Helmets and shells. Full pads come on Monday.
No change from Friday. The following players were absent on Day 4:
QB Brian Hoyer
DE Deatrich Wise
RB James White (physically unable to perform list)
CB Jonathan Jones (PUP)
S Jabrill Peppers (PUP)
DB Myles Bryant (non-football injury list)
OL Chasen Hines (NFI)
OL Andrew Stueber (NFI)
It’s unclear what’s sidelining Hoyer, who’s missed the last two practices, and Wise, who’s sat out the last three.
Rookie running back Pierre Strong remained limited. He has yet to take part in team drills this summer.
Positive moments were few and far between for New England’s quarterbacks as the defense again won the day.
Mac Jones went 8-for-13 in 7-on-7 drills and 6-for-12 in 11-on-11s, with Kyle Dugger undercutting his penultimate pass of practice and taking it 90 yards for a pick-six.
The offense was forced to drop down for a round of pushups after that play. Bill Belichick gave them one more snap, and that resulted in another W for the D, with rookie cornerback Marcus Jones breaking up a quick out to Jakobi Meyers.
In the plus column, arguably Jones’ best throw went to wide receiver Meyers, who did well to haul in a contested touchdown catch between cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Terrance Mitchell. Jones also hit Jonnu Smith for a short touchdown on a designed rollout — an action we’ve seen more often this summer than we did last season — with the tight end getting the better of rookie corner Jack Jones near the pylon.
Jones should have had a down-the-seam touchdown to tight end Hunter Henry during 7-on-7s, but the typically sure-handed red-zone target dropped it. Jones completed just three passes to wide receivers in full-team drills: the aforementioned one to Meyers and two to DeVante Parker, who outmaneuvered Marcus Jones for a scamble-drill touchdown but also was the intended target on Dugger’s INT. On the latter, the QB scrambled to evade pressure and threw against the grain to his new veteran wideout, failing to see Dugger knifing in.
It was the second interception in as many practices for Jones, who also threw one to Mills on Friday off a miscommunation with Meyers. Jones had no picks on Days 1 and 2.
Bailey Zappe, who’s seen second-team reps in the last three practices with Hoyer not active, went 5-for-9 in 7s and 3-for-8 in 11s.
The fourth-round draft pick has struggled with accuracy and ball placement throughout his young Patriots tenure and must learn to put more touch on his shorter throws. But he has delivered a couple of standout moments, including Saturday’s best offensive highlight: a deep-ball strike to Kristian Wilkerson down the left sideline in 11-on-11s. Some defenders wanted an offensive pass interference penalty on the play, but it was a good ball by Zappe, whose over-the-shoulder touchdown to Ty Montgomery was the play of the day on Day 3.
Both quarterbacks faced frequent pressure from New England’s D-line, with more than a half-dozen reps resulting in either scrambles, “sacks” or throwaways. The defense has been the more impressive unit in each of the last three practices.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Dugger’s pick-six, which capped a less-than-stellar week for the highly regarded third-year safety. He’s struggled in coverage against top tight ends Henry and Smith, surrendering a handful of touchdowns to the duo across the first four practices. One of those, to Henry, came on the play before Dugger’s interception.
One of Dugger’s greatest assets is his physicality, however, so perhaps he’ll fare better once full-contact drills start up on Monday.
— The latest on the ongoing offensive play-caller storyline: Matt Patricia handled those duties in all competitive periods Saturday, but Bill Belichick was glued to his left hip throughout, with Patricia often conferring with the head coach before using his yellow walkie-talkie to radio in each call.
Regardless of who winds up calling plays to start the season, it’s clear Belichick will have a large and active role in how the Patriots’ offense is run. It also would not be surprising to see him assume play-calling responsibilities himself, either this summer or at some point during the season.
— Patriots cornerbacks were highly active, with seven of them (Mitchell, Mills, Malcolm Butler, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Joejuan Williams and Justin Bethel) registering at least one pass breakup. Mitchell, a journeyman who’s made a strong case for a starting job thus far, had two, though he also was in coverage on Meyers’ touchdown.
Wade was the only Patriots corner who participated in practice and did not record a PBU. He and Marcus Jones both have seen a lot of slot work this week with Jonathan Jones sidelined.
— Though Butler showed great finish on an end-zone breakup, ripping the ball away from Parker, this hasn’t been an auspicious start to camp for the returning Super Bowl XLIX hero.
After struggling to keep up with Nelson Agholor during the first few practices, he allowed a long touchdown to Josh Hammond — a wideout with two games of NFL experience who signed two days ago — on Saturday.
— It’s way, way, way too early to make any definitive roster conclusions, but we had to evaluate New England’s outside cornerback battle through four practices, we’d pencil in Mills and Mitchell as the top pairing, followed by Butler and Jack Jones, then Williams and Bethel.
Mills also saw some reps in the slot Saturday. He was a starting outside corner for the Patriots last season but played all over the secondary during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. We’ll see if the Patriots utilize more of that versatility this season.
— Remember Anfernee Jennings? The 2020 third-round pick entered camp on the roster bubble after a lackluster rookie year and a 2021 season lost to injured reserve, but he flashed in this latest practice, pressuring Mac Jones on three consecutive plays.
Jennings hasn’t received much attention amid the Patriots’ ongoing linebacker competition — especially for a relatively recent Day 3 draftee — but he showed up on Saturday. We’ll see if he can maintain that momentum.
— Offensive tackle Trent Brown had to run a penalty lap after jumping offsides in 11-on-11s.
— Ty Montgomery, Tre Nixon, Marcus Jones and Dugger took reps at kick returner. The Patriots are looking to identify a new top return man for punts and kicks after losing Gunner Olszewski in free agency.
— During one kickoff period, Nixon paused to get his right ankle taped by a trainer before returning to the field.
— A nugget from the “in case of emergency” department: Linebacker Mack Wilson slotted in at long snapper on the second field-goal unit.
“It’s something I’ve been doing since high school,” Wilson said after practice. “Nobody could do it in high school so that’s when I learned.”
Wise filled that role during spring practice, but he’s been out with an undisclosed injury.
— As we noted back in the spring, Brenden Schooler looks like the favorite among undrated free agents to stick on the 53-man roster. The athletic Texas product seen occasional reps at his listed position of safety but has spent most of his practice time running through special teams drills with kicking game cornerstones Matthew Slater and Cody Davis.
With Slater and Davis both among the team’s oldest players and a number of core special teamers departing this offseason (Brandon Bolden, Brandon King, Olszewski, etc.), the Patriots need to replenish that pipeline, making Schooler a candidate to stick despite his minimal defensive value.
The Patriots will have Sunday off before what players have called the “real” training camp kicks off Monday at 9:30 a.m. ET. Like all camp practices, that first full-pads session will be open to the public and free of charge.
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