FOXBORO — Tuesday featured the return to training camp of the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore was down since last Thursday, leaving camp to attend to a personal matter. He needed to pass COVID protocols before coming back to the field. Once there, he was, well, Stephon Gilmore. A human eraser.
That’s the big news since Gilmore is, along with inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, the straw that will stir the drink for the Patriots defense. IN MY OPINION!
Julian Edelman, meanwhile, was not at practice. This is his second missed practice of camp. Wideout Devin Ross also missed putting the heat on the rest of the wideout group to pick up the slack in a workmanlike practice.
The intensity wasn’t through the roof but it was by no means a flat workout. Just businesslike and efficient. It happens at this time of year when the team is — as Bill Belichick likes to put it — stacking days.
N’Keal Harry and recently acquired corner Michael Jackson did inject a touch of drama to the day when — after getting into minor disagreements on two prior blocking reps — they got into a tiny shoving exchange after a third.
Basically, the kind of stuff that happens after every whistle in the NHL. But it is worth noting if only to emphasize that Harry is happy to be physical and mix things up — he showed that last year. The ability to string together positive days is what he really needs to show. After a solid practice Monday, he had another on Tuesday.
As for the quarterbacks, Cam Newton continues to be first up for reps and carry the heaviest workload.
What I liked about his day early in practice: Seeking out tough throws to complete and not being cowed into taking checkdowns. Now’s the time to figure out who can fight for and make plays for him.
What I didn’t like about Newton late in practice: Two hurried throws in hurry-up offense. The first was out to the left sideline and Newton stepped completely in the bucket on a throw to Harry and threw from a backpedal practically. The ball had no shot. The second was a high-velocity throw on a simple in-cut to James White that was high and behind the running back and impossible to reel in.
Rookie tight end Devin Asiasi — who’s been plenty solid in the first week of workouts — went down mid-practice. It didn’t seem dire, but he was out for the remainder of the workout. Dalton Keene, the Patriots other rookie third-round tight end, meanwhile keeps doing everything asked of him. He’s out there every day, featured in the running game and passing game and smoothly catches pretty much everything that comes his way. There are a lot of in-traffic targets for Keene and he does well with those.
One more — rookie second-rounder Kyle Dugger has had very limited work the past couple of days. With he and Adrian Phillips being down, there’s a shortfall at safety. We have no idea on how long those guys will be laid low.
To the postcard!!
WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads for the second straight day. This was the fifth of the eight days in which the team was in their full regalia.
WHO WAS OUT
The aforementioned wideouts Julian Edelman and Devin Ross. Also down were safety Adrian Phillips, tackle Yodny Cajuste, DT Beau Allen, running backs Sony Michel and Lamar Miller and rookie wideouts Jeff Thomas and Will Hastings. Allen, Miller and Michel haven’t practiced yet.
Tough break with Allen and Phillips — two free agent signings — and Cajuste, who the team would certainly like to see develop at either tackle spot in his second season. As noted, Asiasi will be a player to focus on tomorrow after he appeared to get laid low.
WHO WAS IN
Stephon Gilmore and tight end Jake Burt were back. Terez Hall and Cassh Maluia didn’t miss after being unable to finish the Monday workout.
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WHAT THEY DID
Player filtered onto the practice fields beginning about 9:45 a.m. and practice began with a little special teams work at “get loose” speed at 10 a.m.
At 10:05, the team did walk-through speed 11-on-11 with Cam Newton taking the first reps. Dynamic stretching started at about 10:10.
Positional drills opened at about 10:20. The quarterbacks split up with Newton and rookie Brian Lewerke at one end working with the backs while Stidham and Hoyer threw reps to wideouts with no defense. Damiere Byrd made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch on one rep, tracking and twisting while looking directly back over his head. I like his game.
At 10:35, there was a stack of 1-on-1 work done prior to 7-on-7s at 10:40 and then a special teams station at 10:45 before the first 11-on-11 session of the day at 10:50.
A few plays that stood out during 1-on-1s...
N’Keal Harry had a terrific back-shoulder catch against Joejuan Williams. Williams wasn’t fooled by the route but Harry reached over Williams anyway and took it away like a loose ball in basketball.
Jason McCourty had a very nice pass-breakup on a downfield throw intended for Mohamed Sanu getting back in-phase after Sanu got a step.
Damiere Byrd had a terrific catch on a well-contested sideline catch with J.C. Jackson on the sideline.
Williams bounced back with a nice rep batting away a throw intended for Keene that was thrown by Newton.
Harry had a pass from Newton broken up by J.C. Jackson. The secondary guys were very physical with Harry as the minor clash with Jackson would indicate.
A few other observations…
At 11:30, Newton and Sanu broke off to throw as a duo.
The entire defense took a lap after some pass-rushing drills. Apparently there were a few offsides violations.
There was a fun-to-watch drill in which a blocker and defender engaged and the ballcarrier had to read the block and cut off the butt of his blocker. That was the drill that led to Harry and Jackson jamming. As always, the Patriots have a lot of skill position players and defensive backs that are happy to embrace contact.
The kicker competition is going to be interesting. Nick Folk took the first reps in 11-on-11 and was good from 30, 35 and 42 yards. Justin Rohrwasser was was good from 30, pushed one just right from 42 and then hit from 42 just inside the left upright.
The Patriots ran some two-minute offense at the end of practice and it didn’t look great. Starting around their own 40, there was a completion to Byrd for 5. There was then a blown up screen and the inaccurate throw to James White on an in-cut. The offense “went for it” on fourth down and a diving Gunner Olszewski wasn’t able to come up with Newton’s throw.
The Patriots reloaded, pretending they converted. There was a 10-yard completion to tight end Ryan Izzo, a throw inside to Mohamed Sanu, a spike to stop the clock with about 40 seconds left. A checkdown to White, another spike and a scramble that forced a throwaway concluded the session as the clock ran out.
Folk attempted a long field goal anyway which appeared to fall short.
Jarrett Stidham, who’s been missing time with an upper leg injury, moved pretty seamlessly during early mobility drills as he dropped and stepped up between blocking bags. He’s delivering the ball well and doesn’t seem like he’s messed up beyond recognition.
His reps were still managed, it seemed. One hopes. If his reps aren’t being managed because of health, he’s practically on ice. He did not take all the reps during a rollout drill which would make sense if it’s his hip/groin bothering him.
In the early 7-on-7 work, Cam Newton went 3-for-4 with a back-shoulder throw to Harry against Jason McCourty and then a late throw on a deep cross to Olszewski over Jonathan Jones on what may have been his third read. He hit an easy one to James White, who shook loose and then was incomplete wild to Sanu.
Brian Hoyer was 2-for-2 and Stidham 1-for-2 in that period.
Newton then came back and went 3-for-3 with a couple of completions to Olszewski. The next 11-on-11 set saw a little more of Newton’s versatility on display. Sanu had a drop on a red-zone slant off play-action. Newton did have a nice completion deep downfield to rookie J.J. Taylor and then hit Taylor across the middle soon after. He finished the day 17 for 24 by my count.
Hoyer was 7 for 13. Stidham, with his limited reps, was 7-for-8.
Derek Rivers: New news is good news when it comes to the oft-injured defensive end and he was again on the field Tuesday. He looked explosive in some of his 1-on-1 pass-rush reps and held up well in the 1-on-1 blocking drills where he had to stack and shed his blocker.
J.J. Taylor: He got loose downfield for a completion from Newton and — because he’s 5-foot-6 — showed some of that knack for making himself hard to locate in the running game. Very fun player to watch.
Jakobi Meyers: He’s been limited somewhat with something but he’s been absolutely MIA through the first eight practices. This is where the lack of a preseason or joint practices hurt so much for guys who need the reps and look to make an impression.
Justin Herron: Had some nice reps last week, but on Tuesday the rookie offensive lineman did not fare as well. Lining up at left tackle in 1-on-1 drills, he was dusted by undrafred Rashod Berry.