FOXBORO — The New England Patriots are set to open their 2022 preseason slate on Thursday, Aug. 11 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro Massachusetts.
The Pats will welcome the New York Giants for the first of two preseason contests to be held in New England this summer.
With an expected capacity crowd to cheer on the hometown team, the Pats will continue to use each opportunity to learn, improve and prepare for the upcoming 2021 season.
Though many players are expected to garner some attention during Thursday’s matchup, here are three members of New England’s offense that might raise an eyebrow… or perhaps, catch a ‘sharp eye’ when the Pats take the field against the Giants.
For quite some time, Patriots fans have clamored for a wire receiver with the straight-line speed to take the top off of a defense. Not only have they possibly found a player with such ability in Thornton, it may just make him a fan-favorite in New England in short order.
During training camp, the Baylor product has worked closely with the Patriots offensive coaching staff, placing an emphasis on improving his arm movement throughout his routes and out of his breaks, increasing his precision on his route running and making contested catches. While the Patriots playbook may be complex, Thornton has demonstrated a comfort level while running his routes and tracking the ball in the Patriots offense.
When at his best, Thornton provides electric speed, with an ability to run past any defender in his path. In conjunction with his speed, look for him to use his long strides to glide past defenders to create separation in his first pro-leve game setting. As a result, he may provide quarterback Mac Jones with immediate value as a deep threat, and the type of receiver for which defenses will always have to account.
Though fellow reserve tackle Justin Herron has taken a greater amount of training camp snaps, Cajuste is the one to watch among New England’s backup offensive linemen. With right tackle Isaiah Wynn limited during Monday’s practice, Herron struggled alongside the first unit. In light of Wynn’s absence on Tuesday, Cajuste got the nod and fared much better than his counterpart. He and starting right guard Michael Onwenu combined for a significant push on the right side of the line, which helped free running back Rhamondre Stevenson for a significant run. In total, the offense seems to run a bit smoother with Cajuste manning the right tackle position.
Though injuries limited his time on the field during his first three seasons, the West Virginia product does have starting potential. Cajuste possesses the quickness to get into position and the strength enough to wall-off defenders in the running game. He has average length for a tackle, but was known to give up the edge at times. This will be something to watch during preseason matchups, starting on Thursday night. Still, he seems to be back in contention to earn a roster spot on New England’s offensive line.
Despite statistically underwhelming during his first season with the team, Smith has become one of the most targeted Patriots pass catchers throughout camp, to date. A full offseason slate of workouts and preparations seems to have been the catalyst Smith needed to spark his performance. It has also allowed him more time to develop a greater understanding of the nuances of New England’s offense. The 26-year-old has not only been a factor in run-blocking, but has become more active in pass receiving, pass protection, alerts and motion. As such, he continues to emerge as a prototypical ‘move’ tight end, best utilized as an effective target in the red zone. While he will unlikely see extensive time on the field, Smith’s practical usage will be worth monitoring.
With Smith showing marked improvement during camp, the Patriots should incorporate more two tight-end sets into their offense. He and Henry spent only a fraction of time on the field in their first season together; just 18.6 percent of New England’s offensive snaps. A greater understanding of the Pats system has recently allowed both Smith and Henry to complement each other in a manner which escaped them in 2021. It should also increase the amount of targets he sees in scoring situations. He may also be in line for some carries out of the backfield via the jet sweep, or as a fullback/H-Back. No matter the manner in which he is used, an improved and more comfortable Jonnu Smith will only help to add another dimension to the Patriots offense in 2022.