Patriots Training Camp Observations: Offense Scuffles Again On Day 6

Defense won the day again Tuesday


Aug 2, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — Here’s everything we observed Tuesday on Day 6 of New England Patriots training camp:

Full pads.

The Patriots had one new absence on Day 6: oft-injured tight end Dalton Keene.

Keene was a full participant in the first five training camp practices but spent all of last season on injured reserve and was limited in the spring. He seems to be behind fellow 2020 third-round pick Devin Asiasi in the battle for the Patriots’ third tight end spot, and this latest absence won’t help his cause.

Also absent Tuesday:

QB Brian Hoyer
RB James White (physically unable to perform list)
OL Chasen Hines (non-football injury list)
OL Andrew Stueber (NFI)

Head coach Bill Belichick said Hoyer, who’s now missed four straight practices, is “fairly close” to returning. He said White, who has yet to take the field this summer, will return “when he’s ready.”

Rookie running back Pierre Strong split off from the main field after warmups, as he’s done in every camp practice to date. He remains limited.

Newly signed safeties Brad Hawkins and Jalen Elliott debuted at practice, wearing Nos. 35 and 36, respectively.

Mac Jones completed 6 of 11 passes in 11-on-11 drills, including a throwaway, a Damien Harris drop and a pass that was batted at the line by Henry Anderson.

Jones was a perfect 8-for-8 in 7-on-7s, but the majority of those were short passes to running backs and tight ends. The one exception was a deep-ball touchdown to wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who ran past special teams-focused cornerback Justin Bethel.

Bailey Zappe was 8-for-13 in full-team 11-on-11s and took 13 consecutive reps in one period. The fourth-round rookie has seen a larger-than-expected workload with Hoyer sidelined, with the Patriots possibly wanting to not wear out Jones’ arm.

Jones wore a compression sleeve on his throwing arm Tuesday to ensure he stayed warm during Zappe’s reps.

Jones totaled 17 reps in full-team 11-on-11 periods, with Zappe logging 23. Neither quarterback threw an interception.

Christian Barmore.

The second-year defensive tackle was a menace in 1-on-1s, knocking 350-pound Mike Onwenu on his backside and then overwhelming undrafted rookie center Kody Russey. Barmore flashed in team drills, as well, plowing straight over tackle Yasir Durant on one rep and then engulfing Ty Montgomery for a run stuff on the next.

Barmore is one of the Patriots’ biggest breakout candidates, and he’s shown up positively in each of the team’s first two padded practices. Fans should have high hopes for the disruptive Alabama product in Year 2.

Close call between Tyquan Thornton and Agholor, who both hauled in highlight-reel receptions in receiver/defensive back 1-on-1s.

Both came on vertical routes down the right sideline. Thornton, a second-round rookie whose stock is on the rise, grabbed a perfectly placed, over-the-helmet pass from Jones amid blanket coverage from Jalen Mills.

Mills, a returning starter at cornerback, stopped and clapped as Thornton jogged back upfield, tipping his metaphorical cap to the 21-year-old speedster.

Agholor’s catch came on the final rep of 1-on-1s, and it appeared to defy physics. With his back turned to Jones, the veteran wideout somehow contorted his body to snag the ball with one hand, avoiding coverage from Joejuan Williams.

Agholor’s was the more athletically impressive reception, but Thornton’s came against the better defender. We’ll call it a tie.

— The Patriots have held six training camp practices. The offense “won” the first. The last five have gone in favor of the defense, raising early concerns about how Jones and Co. will fare when the real games begin.

Tuesday was another slog for New England’s O.

The run game, which is implementing more outside-zone concepts, struggled to gain much traction against the Patriots’ defensive front. Barmore, Lawrence Guy, Jahlani Tavai, Harvey Langi, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings and Mack Wilson were among those who notched run stuffs, with Wilson knocking J.J. Taylor to the turf with a powerful pop.

Jones faced frequent pressure, with five of his 14 dropbacks in 11-on-11s resulting in a sack, a scramble, a throwaway or a batted pass. The Patriots’ play-action boot game, another new wrinkle that featured Jones and Zappe faking a handoff or toss to one side and then rolling out in the opposite direction, yielded little success.

The defense — which, remember, entered camp with major question marks at linebacker and cornerback, in particular — clearly has been the stronger unit so far this summer.

Time to panic about the other side of the ball? No. It’s now clear the Patriots are rolling out a new, seemingly Shanahan/McVay-inspired offensive system, with changes that go beyond simple terminology tweets. And they’re doing so with a completely new offensive coaching structure. It’ll take time for things to jell, and there’s still a month to go before the Sept. 11 season opener in Miami.

But the product has not been pretty thus far.

“We have great coaches that’ll get us there,” Jones, who’s looked frustrated at times in camp, said after practice. “I think, right now, it’s more about the communication of getting there, and we need to just grow a little more here and kind of pick up the pace a little bit.”

— Thornton continues to look like a player on the rise. He’s consistently run with Jones’ first-team offense throughout camp and has seen plenty of looks on special teams, as well.

Early in Tuesday’s practice, the second-round pick worked with a select group of kicking-game regulars while most of the wideouts ran through footwork drills. While some might view this as a negative, it looks more like the Patriots finding different ways to involve a player who likely won’t open the season as a starter. That’s a good thing for Thornton.

Thornton also took a jet-sweep handoff during an early 11-on-11 period. He only carried the ball three times in four seasons at Baylor, so that’s another example of New England diversifying his skill set.

— Agholor flashed three times on Day 6: his one-hander in 1-on-1s, his bomb over Bethel in 7s and a tight-window touchdown from Jones in red-zone 11-on-11s. Agholor caught the bullet pass in heavy traffic, then handed the ball to rookie guard Cole Strange, who gave it an emphatic spike.

That highlight came with an asterisk, as undrafted rookie D-lineman LaBryan Ray appeared to pull up as he reached Jones and might have jarred the ball loose from his former Alabama teammate in a live-game setting. But the placement by Jones and concentration by Agholor were impressive regardless.

Agholor, a major disappointment last season, said after practice he feels much more comfortable now in Year 2. He’s looked it since the start of spring practice.

— Anderson had a pass breakup and a pressure off the edge in 11-on-11s, chasing Jones out of the pocket on one rep. With Wise missing most of the camp practices to date, Anderson has seen a lot of run opposite top edge rusher Matt Judon.

A torn pec ended Anderson’s 2021 season a month in, but Bill Belichick said he’s been a full participant since the start of the offseason program. The ex-Jet and Colt has put himself in a good position to compete for a roster spot.

— Trent Brown and Justin Herron were among the offensive line standouts in 1-on-1 drills. James Ferentz held up well, too.

— Rookie Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant and J.J. Taylor returned punts, with Jabrill Peppers observing from behind the returners. Jones looks like the leading candidate for that job, but he’ll need to earn it this preseason.

The Patriots’ next practice is scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. ET.’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images
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