Eight Things We Learned From Patriots-Raiders Joint Practices

The Patriots closed out training camp in Sin City


August 25

HENDERSON, Nev. — Before taking the field Friday night for their preseason finale, the New England Patriots joined the Las Vegas Raiders for a pair of joint practices in the oppressive desert heat.

Here are eight things we learned after watching those two practices:

1. The offense ended camp on a high note
After a Tuesday practice that featured just one fruitful team-drills period for Mac Jones’ first-team offense, they fared much better on Day 2. Their final training camp practice featured two tight-window touchdown passes from Jones to Jakobi Meyers and one from Jones to Hunter Hunter, with the latter coming on a gotta-have-it red-zone rep. The Patriots’ rocky transition to a new offense has been the No. 1 storyline of the summer, and Wednesday provided some reasons for optimism as Week 1 approaches. Two-minute situations, in particular, have been an area of strength for Jones and company of late. 

2. ? but we still haven’t them run the ball effectively
On Day 1 with the Raiders, the Patriots’ starting offense ran the ball seven times. The result: one nice Rhamondre Stevenson gain and six run stuffs. On Day 2, they hardly ran it at all, calling just four designed run plays (including a jet sweep to tight end Jonnu Smith) in 31 11-on-11 reps. New England’s ground game — its greatest offensive asset last season — has been stuck in neutral all summer as players adjust to the new outside-zone blocking scheme. And the Patriots now could be without lead back Damien Harris for a spell after he left Wednesday’s practice with an apparent injury. Backups Stevenson and Ty Montgomery both have played well, but the rushing attack as a whole hasn’t looked close to game-ready. 

3. Jakobi Meyers is the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver
Meyers’ staying power is impressive. Last offseason, the Patriots signed Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne on Day 1 of free agency. Their best receiver in training camp: Meyers. This year, they traded for DeVante Parker and used a second-round draft pick on Tyquan Thornton. Their best receiver in training camp: Meyers again. The undrafted fourth-year pro led all Patriots in targets and receptions from Jones this summer and finished camp with a flourish, catching five of his six targets Wednesday and hauling in two highlight-reel touchdowns. 

4. Right tackle remains a question mark
Isaiah Wynn returned to the field this week after a lengthy injury-related absence, but he was unable to finish Wednesday’s practice. This has been a less-than-stellar summer for the 2018 first-rounder, who hasn’t looked natural in his move from left to right tackle and has struggled to stay healthy. The Patriots reportedly have called teams about a possible Wynn trade, which would free up $10.4 million in salary cap space. Who would replace him? That’s another question. Yodny Cajuste, Justin Herron and Mike Onwenu all have seen reps at right tackle this summer, with Herron subbing in when Wynn left the field Wednesday. 

5. Matthew Judon continues to disrupt
The Pro Bowl edge rusher caused chaos in the backfield in both joint practices this week. During one stretch Tuesday, Judon drew a hold and was in on two sacks. On Wednesday, he notched a pass breakup, a run stuff and a sack in the span of five or six reps. He’s been the Patriots’ best front-seven defender throughout camp, returning to his disruptive ways after last year’s disappearing act. The question now is whether Judon can maintain that over the course of a full season and whether players like Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Deatrich Wise can provide the pass-rushing depth they lacked behind Judon and Christian Barmore in 2021. 

6. The Patriots’ top cornerback trio appears locked in
Wide open at the start of camp, New England’s cornerback battle appears to be over, at least at the top of the depth chart. Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones have been firmly entrenched as the top two outside corners since shortly after the first preseason game, with Myles Bryant joining them as the top slot option. Rookies Jack Jones (outside) and Marcus Jones (inside) have shown playmaking ability, but both project as backups to start their NFL careers. The biggest lingering question is whether the Patriots will keep veteran Terrance Mitchell or promising second-year pro Shaun Wade, as there likely isn’t room for both on the 53-man roster unless special teams ace Justin Bethel gets the boot. Wade was limited in both joint practices this week. 

7. Jahlani Tavai looks like he’ll have a role on defense
After starting last week’s preseason game, Tavai repped with the first-team defense in both joint practices, rotating with Raekwon McMillan at inside linebacker. Tavai was a second-round draft bust in Detroit, and his deficiencies in coverage have shown up at times this summer, but he has a fan in Bill Belichick, who’s praised him in multiple news conferences.  

8. Davante Adams is really freaking good
Adams might be the NFL’s best wide receiver, and he looked the part this week, giving New England’s cornerbacks all they could handle in both practices. Derek Carr’s top target beat at least three different Patriots corners for touchdowns Wednesday and went 5-1 in 1-on-1 drills across the two days. Mills did have some encouraging moments against Adams, including a pass breakup in 1-on-1s, and said practicing against top wideouts like him and Hunter Renfrow can only help the Patriots’ secondary, which is operating without a Pro Bowl-caliber corner for the first time in a decade. New England finishes the regular season with matchups against Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, Adams, Ja’Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill and then Diggs again.

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Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
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