FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ second joint practice with the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday was another contentious, fight-filled affair.
Here’s everything we observed in that practice:
Did not particpate
TE Hunter Henry
OL Yasir Durant
OL Bill Murray
OL Andrew Stueber
OT Justin Herron
OT Isaiah Wynn
Henry and Durant both exited Tuesday’s practice early.
Wynn has not participated in the Patriots’ last four practices. With Yodny Cajuste filling in at right tackle and enjoying what Bill Belichick has called the best camp of his NFL career, Wynn’s continued absence is putting his starting job in question.
Yes, we felt the need to add this category after how remarkably chippy this week’s practices have been.
After Tuesday’s session featured two full-blown fights, multiple smaller scrums and five ejections, it didn’t take long for the Patriots and Panthers to put the gloves back on Wednesday.
During an early kickoff drill, Carolina defensive back Kenny Robinson drilled New England receiver Kristian Wilkerson, causing tempers to flare on both sides. Multiple Patriots players later said Robinson’s hit was clean, but they did not appreciate the way he taunted Wilkerson while the latter clearly was injured. Wilkerson eventually was carted off the field and taken away for an off-side medical exam.
One play later, on the opening rep of 11-on-11 drills, defensive end Deatrich Wise walloped star Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey near the sideline, sparking an all-out brawl that spilled over into the nearby bleachers.
After the teams were separated, Wise and Carolina running back Chuba Hubbard were ejected, as was Robinson for his taunting of Wilkerson. (Wilkerson and Robinson were at the center of Tuesday’s largest scrap, which had resulted in ejections for both parties and Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne.)
Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers was lucky to avoid a dismissal, as he could be seen trading punches with Panthers offensive lineman Taylor Moton along the outskirts of the melee.
The rest of practice proceeded without incident after head coaches Bill Belichick and Matt Rhule spoke to their respective teams. Rhule’s stern message to his players: another fight, and practice is over.
Immediately after the fight, Mac Jones began his day with back-to-back touchdown passes to tight end Jonnu Smith and wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Later, he and Agholor connected again for an acrobatic contested touchdown into triple coverage.
Overall, Jones went 11-for-15 in 11-on-11 drills, including two throwaways. He capped practice with a 10-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker after a two-minute drill, followed by a successful two-point conversion to Ty Montgomery, who absorbed a hard hit from safety Xavier Woods at the goal line but was ruled in by the on-site officials.
Jones was 5-for-7 in 7-on-7s. He said after practice he’s encouraged by the progress of the Patriots’ offense, which looked more cohesive and functional this week than it had in previous training camp practices.
As for whether he’ll play in Friday night’s preseason game, Jones replied: “I hope so.”
Bailey Zappe got most of the second-team reps after the majority of those went to Brian Hoyer on Tuesday. The fourth-round rookie scuffled, especially during one two-minute drill that saw him go 3-for-9 with an interception and multiple overthrows. Zappe was 7-of-17 overall in full-team drills.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Agholor’s touchdown catch. He outjumped defensive back Myles Hartsfield with two other Panthers in the vicinity, rewarding Jones for his aggressiveness.
Finding a trade partner for Agholor and his $9 million salary would give the Patriots some cap relief, but he’s been one of the team’s best pass-catchers this summer. Even with more mouths to feed in New England’s receiving corps following the arrivals of Parker and Tyquan Thornton, there’s reason to believe the veteran wideout can be more productive this season than he was in 2021.
— No. 1 Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills continued to impress in coverage, blanketing standout Panthers receiver D.J. Moore.
Mills won both of their matchups in 1-on-1s, notching one pass breakup. Later, he opened a Sam Darnold two-minute drill by undercutting a Moore out route for an interception, then provided tight coverage on a deep incompletion.
After the INT, Mills enthusiastically punted the ball high into the air. As the clear top dog in New England’s cornerback group, he’s had plenty of reasons to celebrate this summer.
— Ty Montgomery and Jakobi Meyers pulled down one-handed touchdown catches from Mac Jones in 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s, respectively. Montgomery’s came against former Patriots cornerback Duke Dawson. Meyers’ beat coverage by safety Jeremy Chinn.
— Smith rebounded from a down practice Tuesday by winning all three of his 1-on-1 reps.
— Agholor was Jones’ top target in 11-on-11 drills, catching all four passes thrown his way. Montgomery and Parker each caught two passes on two targets from Jones in 11s. Meyers and running back Rhamondre Stevenson each caught their lone target. Smith was 1-for-2; Thornton 0-for-1.
Bourne, who’s had a surprisingly quiet camp, did not see any targets from Jones in full-team drills and spent a portion of practice running with the season team.
— A two-play stretch during 7-on-7 drills showed Jones’ growing confidence in Thornton.
On one rep, Jones attempted to hit the rookie wideout on a crossing route near the goal line but had his pass broken up by a Carolina defender. Undeterred, he went back to Thornton one play later, and that one resulted in a touchdown, with Thornton successfully separating from cornerback CJ Henderson in the end zone.
— Both teams spent much of the morning working in the red zone during 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods, then went full-field for a series of two-minute drills to close out practice.
— The Patriots made a notable change at cornerback during the Panthers’ first two-minute drill.
Rather than deploying Jonathan Jones opposite Mills on the first-team defense, New England sent out Shaun Wade instead, with Myles Bryant manning the slot.
Wade has been a ball hawk of late, but he’s mostly run with the second and third cornerback units this summer. The reason for the change was unclear, but Jones — who’s been a starting outside corner in the last five practices — watched most of the two-minute period from near the end zone, far from the rest of his Patriots teammates.
Special teams coordinator Cam Achord walked down to join Jones for a stretch, with Matthew Judon and cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino also stopping by.
Receiver Derek Wright caught a tight-window touchdown against Wade to close out that drive.
— Bryant has repped over Marcus Jones in the slot in each practice this week. He had an interception and a pass breakup in 1-on-1s. Jones tallied an interception in 11-on-11s but also surrendered a touchdown to wideout Charleston Rambo.
— Brenden Schooler’s case for a roster spot grows stronger the day.
The undrafted free agent safety was part of multiple top special teams units Wednesday — running with the likes of Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis and others — and dished out two thunderous hits, one on kickoff coverage and another on defense that forced an incompletion.
Schooler has worked closely with Slater and Davis throughout training camp and projects as a potential weapon in the kicking game for New England.
“I like him,” Slater said after practice.
— Belichick spent part of practice chatting with Panthers punter Johnny “The Weapon” Hekker, of whom the coach is an avid superfan.
The Patriots will hold meetings and a closed walkthrough Thursday before squaring off against the Panthers on Friday night inside Gillette Stadium in Week 2 of the NFL preseason.
NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.