PHILADELPHIA -- A fairly fascinating day in Philly on Monday.
Four stories of the day emerged. Starting on the field, both Cam Newton and Mac Jones scuffled some on the first of two fully-padded practices against the Eagles. The Patriots took another ding at the tight end position and that position of depth is shallowing out. The teams’ defenses both carried the day. And Newton spoke after practice acknowledging he hasn’t been told he’ll start against Miami in Week 1.
Start with the last part first. All offseason, there’s been a presumption that, because Belichick said what he said, Newton had been appointed. Nothing could be done to blow him out of that spot. Bill said so, Bill said so, Bill said so.
Accepting that Belichick was naming his September starter on draft night would be exercising blissful ignorance of the fact Belichick 1) plays the most productive player and 2) has Newton here on a short-money, one-year deal coming off a season where he threw eight touchdowns and 10 picks.
Belichick made that declaration publicly to head off daily, “Who’s winning the quarterback competition?” questions. And it’s kinda worked. As we’ve been busy charting the progress of Jones and Newton, nobody bugs Belichick about it because he got it out there that Newton’s the starter.
Newton still takes the majority of starter reps. But Jones gets in with the 1s as well and gets a ton of work with the backups. And every day for the past two weeks, Jones has outperformed Newton.
It’s a competition and Newton may have had pole position at the start but he hasn’t been told how it will end.
When first asked by Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal if Belichick had told him he’d start Week 1, Newton said, “You know the answer to that question.”
Not really, I offered. Because Belichick stated, “Cam’s our starter ...” twice this offseason, nobody knows definitively whether Belichick meant “at this time…” or not. I asked Newton to clear it up.
"I don't know what y'all want me to say," Newton responded. "You know he hasn't said that, so for you to just ask the question, it is what it is. Every single day I'm coming out here with the anticipation to just get better, and that's the only thing that I can do. So, I can control that."
So there you go. It ain’t over until it’s over. And it certainly wasn’t over in April. Or at the start of camp. And it’s even less over now.
Tight end depth worsens
The Patriots came down to Philly with their big-ticket tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith both dinged up. Henry’s been down with a shoulder issue since last week. Smith has a lower leg issue suffered Sunday. Then things got worse.
Tight end Matt LaCosse, chasing a shallow-crossing throw from Cam Newton, ran smack into Eagles linebacker Derek Barnett. It was a significant collision in a semi-non-contact drill and LaCosse went down hard and didn’t get up for a couple of minutes. He left the field looking expressionless and followed the training staff right off the field. LaCosse sat out 2020 because of COVID concerns.
He’s been OK in camp with some competent days both as a blocker and receiver. His injury meant both second-year player Devin Asiasi and Troy Fumagalli get almost all the tight end reps after that. Smith and Henry were both in Philly for the workouts but neither was involved on Monday.
- And that brings us to the on-field activity. It was a full-on smorgasbord of football on the three fields at the Eagles NovaCare Complex. With 170 players (or so) on the field between the two teams, there was plenty of opportunity for Patriots to get rep-after-rep against guys they hadn’t seen before.
- The first part of the feast was 1-on-1s. Eagles DBs against Patriots receivers (and vice versa), LBs vs. backs and TEs, OL vs. DL.
- Some of the standout plays when the Pats receivers were up against the Eagles DBs were a fantastic snatch-catch by Jakobi Meyers on a throw by Newton. A very nice throw by Newton to N’Keal Harry downfield and a horrible drop by Nelson Agholor on a throw from Mac Jones.
- In 1-on-1s, the receiver should almost always win but Eagles defensive back Darius Slay was a problem for the Patriots wideouts. The wideout who gets the most separation is Meyers. He’s sudden at the start of his route, smooth in the middle part and then so shifty and sharp out of his break it’s really hard to get a read on him. It’s his change of pace that kills. That was something Kendrick Bourne, who’s had a solid camp but didn’t have a standout day on Monday, was saying he needs to improve – slowing down and not rushing the route. Kristian Wilkerson was another WR that struggled on Monday.
- When I caught the Patriots DBs working with the Eagles wideouts, I noticed that Jalen Mills (a former Eagle) was very vocal during the 1-on-1s. Some might call it obnoxious. I say vocal.
- DeAngelo Ross had a nice leaping pick for the Patriots, meanwhile J.C. Jackson and Joejuan Williams were both real handsy in their reps and Jackson drew a flag from one of the officials on hand.
- Matthew Judon had a scoop-and-score touchdown on the far field that he celebrated by somersaulting at the end.
- In 7-on-7 drills, Newton had a great throw to Agholor on a post but also had two would-be interceptions dropped by linebacker Alex Singleton.
- At the close of the 7-on-7s, Mac Jones and Bourne weren’t on the same page on a downfield throw resulting in a very audible expletive from Jones. Bourne got some counsel from receivers coach Mick Lombardi after that.
- Mills got into it with an Eagles lineman during late-practice 11-on-11s after a false-start penalty. That 11-on-11 session was poor for Newton. Phil Perry has all the quarterback watch numbers right here, but Newton saw a lot of pressure from the Eagles as he again labored to get the ball out in rhythm. Jones wasn’t exactly a surgeon, either, but he was at least getting the ball out on time.
- The most noteworthy rep of the 11-on-11s was a pick Newton threw from the Eagles 4-yard line. Newton said after practice the situation was third-and-goal from the 4, down four points with seven seconds left. Newton first looked left briefly then came back and fired into what looked like a team meeting for the Eagles DBs. The throw to Asiasi never had a chance.