The New England Patriots closed their first week of 2021 Training Camp with a little weekend fun, and some crowd-pleasing moments. In front of the largest, and most-lively crowd to grace the training camp stands in Foxboro thus far, the Pats hit practice fields for Day Four of Training Camp practices
Here are some of Saturday morning's highlights on a beautiful summer day in New England:
Linebacker and special teams ace Brandon King returned to practice, indicating that he has been removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. King has spent the past two seasons on injured reserve.
Those veterans absent from Saturday’s on-field action once again included QB Jarrett Stidham, CB Stephon Gilmore, TE Dalton Keene, LB Chase Winovich, DT Byron Cowart and LB Terez Hall. Each of these players is currently ineligible to practice, as they remain on PUP .
For the fourth straight day, linebacker Kyle Van Noy was present, but wearing a red non-contact jersey.
Linebacker Anfernee Jennings returned to the practice fields on Saturday. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had confirmed earlier in Saturday that Jennings had been excused from the first three days of practices for personal reasons.
A Time-Honored Tradition
In what has become a true rite of passage for the team’s rookies, the Pats continued their tradition of executing what has become known as the ‘wet ball drill.’ Each year, New England’s rookies and first-year coaches participate in diving for a football on a previously soaked field. Team captain Matthew Slater continues to spray the newcomers with a water hose as they make their best attempt to secure the loose ball. The drill has become somewhat of a fan-favorite camp staple in recent years.
A ‘Hard Decision’
Having begun the day by saying that the positional competition at quarterback would be a “hard decision” (followed by “Cam is our starting quarterback”), Patriots head coach Bill Belichick continues to test his quarterbacks early in camp. Per usual, Cam Newton led off each set of competitive team drills. The Pats veteran finished the day, completing 12 of 21 passes, overall. Newton struggled a bit more with his accuracy than he did on Friday. He did, however, connect on a pair of touchdown strikes to receivers Kristian Wilkerson and Kendrick Bourne, respectively.
Mac Jones started slowly out of the gate on Saturday. The rookie quarterback started competitive drills going 0-4, having two of his passes batted down (one by DT Davon Godchaux and the other by LB Kyle Van Noy). Jones weathered the storm and ended the day strong. He went 4-4 in his final attempts of the week, including an aesthetically-pleasing inside throw to Wilkerson. Jones would finish Saturday’s practice completing 12 of 17 passes.
Wideouts Wow into the Weekend
Heading into the 2021 season, the Patriots’ positional grouping at wide receiver has been the subject of much question. Despite some improvements made in the offseason, many still consider the Pats receiving corps to be more of a liability than a strength. However, the wideouts have made a stellar first impression in the opening days of training camp. Nelson Agholor has been the standout among the Pats receivers. Through all four days of practice, he has consistently found separation from defenders and has made some athletic catches, both in the field and in the end zone.
Still, Agholor is not the only receiver to deservedly garner attention this week. Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers continue to be regular targets for the Pats quarterbacks. N'Keal Harry capped a solid week of practice by making a leaping touchdown catch on Saturday. Lastly, Kristian Wilkerson turned in his best performance in camp, snagging two touchdowns in the final red zone period.
Still Strong in the Secondary
The Patriots have always valued the presence of a strong and versatile defensive backfield. Despite some uncertainty surrounding the presence of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the Pats look to once again uphold that tradition. Cornerbacks JoeJuan Williams and J.C. Jackson both contributed timely pass breakups on Saturday. Fellow defensive backs Adrian Phillips, Justin Bethel and Jalen Mills each caused some disruption in New England’s offensive passing game. Once again, the Pats look to field deep and talented depth charts both at cornerback and at safety; thus making Bill Belichick’s final roster decisions at the position quite difficult.
The Patriots will be off on Sunday, but return to the practice fields at 9:30am on Monday, August 2.