PATS INSIDER

Curran's Camp Postcard: Passing game in focus on Day 2 in pads

PATS INSIDER
Patriots QB coach Jedd Fisch, QB Jarrett Stidham at training camp, Aug. 18, 2020
Patriots QB coach Jedd Fisch, QB Jarrett Stidham at training camp, Aug. 18, 2020
AP Photo

FOXBORO — The Patriots are hell-bent on making up for lost time, it seems. On a very nice day for beach, golf or the garden, Bill Belichick oversaw a very physical, up-tempo practice that squeezed every ounce of work time out of the nearly two hours the team was on the field.

While the focus on quarterbacks is understandably front-and-center, to me the intensity of this second day in pads and the fact that there were few players noticeably dragging ass is most noteworthy. Actually I didn’t see anybody dragging ass though someone must have been out there who was. The takeaway is that this team responded to the challenge undoubtedly laid down by Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff to show up in shape.

In contrast to the first day of padded work, this session was more attuned to the passing game. There was a lot of 11-on-11 work and it feels like there’s a conscious effort to divvy up the quarterback reps. If Jarrett Stidham is in there first and takes four snaps, the next session will begin with Cam Newton under center and then Brian Hoyer will take the next.

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The biggest “uh-oh” of the day: Julian Edelman slipped out almost undetected in the first few minutes of the session. He was on the field at the outset but was not spotted after about the first five minutes.

And in quarterback news, Stidham was in a giving mood. He got picked three times. Once by defensive back Michael Jackson, who clearly wanted to be starting something on the play. Stidham also gave one up to Stephon Gilmore and — on the very next play — got got by Kyle Dugger on a deep pass when Dugger ranged over from the deep middle while in Cover-1.

 

There were oodles of reps in the session and Stidham had plenty of good reps. He has, in my opinion, the most live arm of the three guys. But the picks — all three of them — fell in the, “You just can’t have that…” category.

Newton got plenty of reps, but there was nothing particularly good and nothing particularly bad about anything he did. Not unexpected in just his second day in pads playing without Edelman and against a defense that’s going to be ahead of the offense but worth noting.

Brian Hoyer had the best two deep throws of the day and continues to show that the thing that he’ll have over the other two is experience in the system. He’s got a high floor and a low ceiling.

WHAT THEY WORE

Full pads for the fellas. Really nothing else I can tell ya. They were ready for football. And everybody who wasn’t playing was masked up. It is interesting to watch how conscientious the coaching staff is about making sure that — if they need to give a little tugdown on the front to be better understood — the mask goes right back up.  

WHO WAS OUT

The same crew as Monday: running backs Lamar Miller and Sony Michel, rookies Jeff Thomas and Anfernee Jennings (wideout and LB) and defensive tackle Beau Allen were down. They were joined by defensive lineman Tashawn Bower.

WHAT THEY DID

The workout on the back two practice fields got going around 10 a.m. After some dynamic stretching and positional drills, the Patriots broke for some special teams work at 10:15 on one of the fields where Damiere Byrd and Kyle Dugger were the lead kickoff returners.

As positional drills continued, fullbacks and tight ends were working on high-pointing the football on screens while there was running game work for the backs and quarterbacks. Linebackers spent some time working on taking on blocks and shedding while edge players were working on their first step and getting around the corner. The wideouts worked on contested catches, running laterally behind tackling dummies while coaching assistants waved paddles in front of their fields of vision.

At 10:30, the first throwing session of the day commenced with Stidham throwing to James White, Damien Harris, N’Keal Harry, Byrd and Mohamed Sanu. They worked on timing routes while at the other end Cam Newton worked with Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor. It was pitch-and-catch with no defenders on the field. About the only incompletion seen was a high throw from Newton that clanged off Olszewski’s hands.

After that session ended, there was a five-minute 1-on-1 tackling session at the far end of the field. The idea was for two players to stand about 5 yards apart. One would have the ball at his feet, snatch it up and run forward. Just pure “take a hit, give a hit” contact but not to the ground. There were pads-a-poppin’ except for when Sanu took his rep and put a spin move on Gilmore which didn’t appear to be the idea behind the drill.

 
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After some running game work — a concentration on Monday but just a glimpse on Tuesday — the team got into some 11-on-11s with the 1s vs. 2s.

Stidham took the first reps there and went 3 for 4 with throws to Devin Asiasi in the seam, Byrd on an in-cut and fullback Dalton Keene (nice day for him) on a crossing route. Then Stidham glitched and got picked on a throw intended for Byrd. Michael Jackson got him. Hoyer was up next and after a couple of checkdowns, he hooked up with Olszewski on a deep route when rookie free agent Myles Bryant’s GPS failed him.

Newton’s turn came next and he had two good throws — a well-placed in-cut to Harry and an in-cut to Olszewski inside safety Justin Bethel. In the 1 vs. 1s 11-on-11 that followed, Newton took the first reps and the running game was a focal point. On Newton’s first dropback during that period he had to tuck the ball after finding nothing available.

Hoyer was next and had a completion down the seam to Asiasi. It was all runs with Stidham in there. He got first crack in 7-on-7s and that’s when he got picked on consecutive plays by Gilmore and Dugger.

Up next, Newton was “meh” with a checkdown and an in-cut that should have been knocked down by linebacker Cassh Maluia and a completion to Ryan Izzo who I’d completely forgotten about. Hoyer then hit Harry with a back-shoulder throw on the sideline and got Harry on an in-cut after a small scramble. It was that play that reinforced Hoyer knowing where his eyes should go when the play starts to go south. Later, when Hoyer overshot Harry during an 11-on-11, Hoyer looked peeved Harry had broken inside and not continued down the seam.

The practice closed in an unconventional fashion with the team going back to 11-on-11 work and doing some goal line running plays. The best play of that came when Stidham found Sanu deep down the right sideline. Sanu didn’t have much impact aside from that play and a drop he suffered when he got his hands up late after trying to clear space.

WHO POPPED?

Rex Burkhead: Just a steady day for the main back taking most of the reps with Sony Michel and Lamar Miller down. His lateral quickness at the line of scrimmage and ability to then accelerate North-South is what always sets him apart. Burkhead was also a frequent bail-out option for both Newton and Stidham when things got bogged down after the snap. He catches everything.

 

Damiere Byrd: The prettiest catch of the day was made by Byrd along the left sideline on an out-cut when Stidham anticipated him coming out of his break and threw to a spot where Byrd came up with a diving catch along the boundary. He’s got a lot of Phillip Dorsett in him. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet.

Kyle Dugger: You can see why the Patriots fell in love with the second-round choice from Lenoir-Rhyne. First, he’s just a very, very big human for a safety. Second, he moves with such effortless explosion. It’s probably going to take some time for him to carve a role in the regular defense because of the experience ahead of him at safety but he’s a very good-looking player. His high-point pick of Stidham’s downfield throw to Byrd was a highlight.

Brian Hoyer: He just knows what he’s doing. Having done it in this style offense for so long, he knows where all the hidden escape spots are and can make something happen by getting quickly through his reads when he sees something’s going sideways. He also had — again — the best downfield completion of the day when he hit Devin Ross down the left sideline over Jason McCourty. McCourty had no shot given where Hoyer put it.

Stephon Gilmore: His pick of Stidham was so effortless. Devin Ross appeared open and available on a little out-cut in the right seam and Gilmore, with one step, accelerated and undercut the throw and would have been off to the races.

WHO DROPPED?

Yodny Cajuste: The second-year tackle got shoved back on one play, drilling rookie running back J.J. Taylor with his posterior and sending Taylor sprawling. It was shades of the Butt Fumble. He generally seems to be just existing out there and seems to come in for, shall we say, special attention with coaching tips quite frequently.

Justin Rohrwasser: After a busy first day for the rookie from Marshall that saw him go 3-for-5 at the tail end of practice (one of his makes doinking in), he was kept under wraps and didn’t kick in full view of the media. Probably not unprecedented, but still a major departure.

Gunner Olszewski: The slender fella had two drops when targeted by Cam Newton. The first was during a drill when a pass from Newton was a tad high. The second came after Newton went play-action and rolled back to his right and tried to hit Olszewski in traffic on the right sideline. The throw was a little high and Olszewski had to jump but it was a play that needs making.

Damien Harris: At the very end of practice, Harris had a juggling catch on a little crossing pattern at the goal line. That was nice and all but aside from that, with all the carries he got, Harris really did nothing that made me say, “Wow. That was different. What a nice play.” He certainly isn’t more sudden or explosive than the oft-dinged Michel.

 

Tackles Not Named Wynn: We already got to Cajuste but neither Korey Cunningham nor Jermaine Eluemunor were particularly stellar either. Both tackles got worked over in the pass-blocking drills a couple of times. Isaiah Wynn, meanwhile? Steady.

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