This sneak peek of New England Patriots minicamp provided a great deal of insight on some of Foxboro’s new faces, as well as its familiar ones.
With training camp set to open in just over a month, the Pats now will be taking a brief break from on-field action. However, the coaching staff will be hard at work, applying the lessons they have learned toward organizing a productive camp.
In the meantime, here are some items on which to keep a sharp eye as the images of minicamp begin to shrink into New England’s collective rearview mirror.
Throughout his tenure in New England, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has proven that he will do what he feels to be in the best interest of his football team. While it is widely believed that the starting quarterback job is Cam Newton’s to lose, the Pats will explore all options.
As such, rookie Mac Jones was shown a myriad of looks by the Pats defense and received a greater amount of snaps than both Newton and Jarrett Stidham in two of three practice sessions this week. While the rookie had his share of growing pains, it was the consensus of the media contingent in attendance that he seemed to look decisive and accurate more often than not.
Conversely, Newton reportedly continued his struggles with accuracy. Some of that could be attributed to poor weather conditions Monday, as well as Newton working his way back from a hand injury that was expected to limit his participation in minicamp. Still, Newton’s struggles continued to be fodder for the sports talk blaze burning rampant throughout terrestrial radio in the region.
However, just when we thought Newton might be out, he pulled us back in.
Newton was heralded Wednesday as being much more effective. He was accurate in his delivery, and reportedly looked sharp even on his incompletions.
Was this enough to save his starting job? Or is this aggressive approach to Mac Jones’ development an indication that the rookie may be ready to take the reins of the Pats offense sooner rather than later? The truth of the matter is that it is far too early to make that assessment.
Newton, Jones and Stidham are all expected to make their case to be the Patriots starter during training camp. If Josh McDaniels continues to run his system based on quick reads and accurate throws, Jones might prove to have the upper hand. Still, the increased physicality of training camp practices (with pads) should allow Newton a greater chance to showcase his athleticism. Lastly, Stidham has more tenure in the Patriots system than both Jones and Newton, a point that should not be quickly dismissed as irrelevant. He performed well in his opportunities during camp despite receiving fewer snaps.
Patriots fans seem to have their preference. However, the final decision will belong to Belichick, McDaniels and the Patriots offensive brain trust. Between now and the start of camp, the speculation will continue to circulate.
While Gilmore Is Away ... It’s Next Man Up
With star cornerback Stephon Gilmore opting to hold out of minicamp entering the final year of his contract, the remaining members of the Patriots defensive backfield were given additional opportunities to showcase their skills during this three-day period.
In true New England Patriots fashion, the team approached minicamp practices by focusing on the players who were in attendance. Expectedly so, J.C. Jackson took over the primary spot in the secondary. Alongside Jackson, free agent addition Jalen Mills took the majority of the snaps, including some that would have been taken by Gilmore.
The versatile defensive back was reportedly quite adept at holding tight coverage with his counterparts and breaking up passes. Mills should not be expected to be a like-for-like replacement for Gilmore, but his experience and skill set likely will make him a valuable member of the team’s defensive backfield in 2021.
Will Stevenson Get the Early Call?
One of the deepest positional depth charts on the Patriots roster is the running back corps. Damien Harris headlines an impressive group that includes rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and James White.
While Harris is considered the consensus feature back, it should be interesting to see if the Patriots continue to lean on Michel as their second option, or if those reps could be taken by Stevenson.
The 6-foot, 230-pound back has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. He is a physical runner with a pretty impressive stiff arm. Despite his natural power-running style, he is athletic enough to make tacklers miss in short yardage. Stevenson is drawing a lot of comparisons to former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, which may be appropriate. As such, many have conjectured that the former Oklahoma Sooners standout may be a factor in New England’s offense as early as this season.
However, it should be noted that the Patriots usually take a temperate and planned approach to developing young running backs. It was reported that Stevenson had his share of struggles during minicamp. Should those continue into training camp, the young running back might see more of a redshirt-type season in 2021.
Judon Making an Impact
The New England Patriots struggled with both consistency and prowess at the linebacker position in 2020. As a result, the Patriots made several changes and upgrades during this offseason. One of the most notable was signing free agent Matthew Judon.
His fit in New England’s defense can best be described as "hand in glove." He is proficient at rushing the passer within the Pats defensive scheme and is equally effective at both defending the run and setting the edge.
Despite showing great prowess in his traditional role as outside linebacker, Judon’s versatility could pay dividends for the Patriots defense this season.
When speaking with reporters after practice Tuesday, Judon offered the following when asked about his thoughts on the role he will play in New England: “I’ve played everything, I was on the edge. I was inside. Sometimes, I was lined up at the corner. It just depended on what the call was. I feel like I’ll do the same here and hopefully I have as much or more success here, just being in a room with inside linebackers, being in a room with a Super Bowl champion coaching us and Super Bowl champions also in the room. Wherever they need me, that’s where I’ll be on that play and I’ll do the job to the best of my ability.”
With the return of veterans Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, Judon should have the freedom to be a force on the Pats defense no matter where he is deployed.