In Netflix’s retro-comedy action series, Cobra Kai, Sensei John Kreese (portrayed by actor Martin Kove) had a stern warning for his karate students before intensifying their fighting drills.
“You’re about to begin your REAL training,” Kreese said.
While that comparison might be a bit too intense for NFL training camps, it is markedly poignant for Tuesday, August 3. It is “Pad Tuesday” for many teams throughout the league, including the New England Patriots. When the pads are put on, the contact increases, the attitudes intensify and the action on the field gets a bit more real.
From team owner Robert Kraft arriving by helicopter to watch the day’s practice, to NFL referees being present to call the action, Tuesday had a more professional feel than the previous days.
Here are some of Tuesday morning's highlights on a comfortable, partly sunny day in New England:
OL Ted Karras and DL Henry Anderson were absent from Tuesday’s practice. Karras left Friday’s practice after suffering a knee injury, while Anderson exited the fields on Monday with an apparent shoulder injury.
Those veterans absent from Tuesday’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 have been placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Rookies Joshuah Bledsoe (S) and Cameron McGrone (LB) remain on the non-football-injury (NFI) list.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy continues to be present, but wearing a red non-contact jersey. Though Van Noy is not cleared for contact, he has been participating in team drills.
Quarterbacks… In Pads… Getting Work
Per usual, the quarterbacks were in the spotlight on Tuesday. When practicing in pads, the relationship between the quarterback’s throw and the receiver’s route takes on a more regular-season feel. The quarterback must account for this target’s spot on the field with a bit more precision. While Mac Jones is deservedly praised for his prowess in this area, Cam Newton was the better of the two on Tuesday.
For the first time in camp, Jones struggled more than he shined. He threw his first interception of training camp, intended for receiver Kendrick Bourne, but picked by linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. During 11-on-11 drills, Jones missed an open Jakobi Meyers in the middle of the field, and also had a tight coverage pass broken up by defensive back Joejuan Williams. He finished the day completing only 1 of 6 passes in 11-on11s, and 9 of 14 on overall competitive drills.
Conversely, Newton looked stronger, accurate and more in-command in his first padded practice of camp. The 32-year-old held the pocket, and his passes had a bit more power. Newton delivered the throw of the day; an approximately 50-yard deep pass from midfield to hit Nelson Agholor for the touchdown. Newton also connected on a textbook throw and score with tight end Hunter Henry. Overall, he would wrap Tuesday's practice by completing 11 of 17 passes.
Rumors of N’Keal Harry’s demise might have been exaggerated. Though the receiver’s future with the team remains uncertain, he has had a strong start to training camp. The 2019 first-rounder is more comfortable when playing with a bit more contact. While wearing the pads on Tuesday, Harry demonstrated the strength that allows him to be effective when making contested catches. He made two such catches along the sidelines, one over Joejuan Williams and the other on Jonathan Jones.
Hit and Run
The Pats runners continue to impress, with Sony Michel and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson standing above the rest on Tuesday. Michel seems to be running with a bit more power and purpose in his drills. He has been showcasing his versatility. From the outset of contact drills, Michel ran with good bursting speed through the line. That earned him the on-field praise from several of his teammates, including center David Andrews
Stevenson, on the other hand, was the ‘hit of Tuesday’s practice. More appropriately, he delivered the ‘hit’ of Tuesday's practice. During 11-on-11 drills, Stevenson dropped his shoulder and virtually ran over cornerback Myles Bryant for a big, crowd-pleasing gain. The Oklahoma rookie continues to demonstrate his strength as a runner. Combined with his ability to receiver out of the backfield, Stevenson could be poised for an impact sooner, than later.
Front Seven Gets the Practice Ball
Simply put, the 2021 Patriots defense is going to be fun to watch. From an upgraded defensive line, to a versatile linebacking corps, to a strong secondary, the Pats are poised for a significant improvement on the preventive side of the ball this year.
Now that padded practices are here, the true evaluation of defensive linemen may begin.
Rookie Christian Barmore continues to impress fans and media alike. During his first pro-level one-on-one pass rush drills, Barmore could not be defeated. He would beat his offensive line counterparts on each of his first five attempts. As the day continued, the Alabama product continued to win the majority of his battles up the middle.
New England’s linebackers had a strong showing on Day Six. While Ja’Whaun Bentley may have snagged the defensive highlight of the day (by snagging a Mac Jones pass for the interception), his position-mates ensured that they made some noise as well. Second-year linebacker Josh Uche once again showcased his size and speed in the pass rush, overwhelming o-linemen Korey Cunningham and Yodny Cajuste in one-on-one drills. Newcomer Matt Judon continued his strong camp by reaching the quarterback on more than one occasion; his best move coming when outmaneuvering Trent Brown with an outside-inside move.
Despite another solid day of practice, the news was not all good for Christian Barmore. The Pats rookie exited practice about a half-hour early, as trainers attended to his left foot.
Linebacker Raekwon McMillan suffered an apparent leg injury during a special teams drill about a third of the way through practice. He slowly walked off the field and into the locker room, accompanied by trainers.
The Patriots will return to the practice fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, August 4, 2021 at 9:30am. Practice is open to the public and gates will open at 8:30am