PATS REPORTER

Perry's mailbag: Biggest positive, negative surprises of Pats camp so far

PATS REPORTER

I'd say there have been a couple of positive surprises. The biggest? The fact that N'Keal Harry is having himself one heckuva camp. He did drop a deep ball from Mac Jones in a one-on-one period on Thursday, and he was flagged for an offensive pass interference penalty during the same practice period. Otherwise? He's been very good. He's made leaping contested catches almost a daily occurrence.

The other positive surprise? Might've come on Friday night inside Gillette Stadium, believe it or not. Those in-stadium practices are always very slow-paced, but we did get a chance to see kicker Quinn Nordin boot a few. He made 'em all, 10-for-10, including a couple from beyond 50 yards. The undrafted rookie had a rough day earlier in camp when given the chance to kick a few at the end of practice. Big-time bounce-back inside the stadium this week.

A negative surprise? Wouldn't say there's been one glaring one. Adrian Phillips has more than held his own against Patriots tight ends through camp, which might be a negative surprise for folks believing Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith would be world-beaters. They've been solid, but not unguardable. (Phillips is, in my opinion, a very good strong safety having a strong camp.) The fact that Jalen Mills hasn't exactly positively flashed to this point -- particularly with Stephon Gilmore out -- might also qualify as a negative surprise after Mills was an early free-agent target for the Patriots this offseason. Mills was on Nelson Agholor on the winner-take-all snap at the end of practice on Day 5 of camp -- a rep that resulted in a win for the Patriots defense. But otherwise he's been quiet. 

 

Harry has been better, though I wouldn't say he necessarily looks like an improved route-runner. He's big, he's athletic, he's explosive as a leaper, and his hands have been solid. Where he's improved the most, probably, is in his availability. He's been a full participant through nine practices. We haven't seen him check-out mid-session to check in with a trainer on the sideline briefly before getting back on the field. We haven't seen him need a day off. Through his first two seasons, one of his biggest issues was that he missed time. I said earlier this offseason that he could have a role on this team if he beats out Jakobi Meyers for the No. 3 receiver role. But that was before he requested a trade.

Not really, if you're talking about whether or not I think he'll be on the roster come the start of the season. I think once you make it known you'd rather not be a part of the team -- essentially saying you don't want to compete for a role after the team added veteran free agents at your position -- that's a tough acknowledgement to bounce back from. Especially on a team whose culture is based in part on the idea that players need to be "comfortable being uncomfortable." Now that Harry is performing well, it might bode well for his trade value, which could make it easier to grant him his wish. And, again, if he outplays Meyers this summer to give the Patriots a top-three of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Harry, then maybe he sticks. But if he's No. 4, without a real special-teams role, with a trade request already submitted, I think the Patriots will be willing to deal him.

Maybe? The pass-rush should be improved, which should help the entire secondary. But the No. 2 corners in camp, after JC Jackson, have been Mills and Joejuan Williams. Would be hard to argue that either has looked the part of a quality starting NFL corner thus far in camp. Myles Bryant, undrafted last year, might be their best option as a No. 2 without Gilmore -- but he's been seeing a lot of time at safety this summer. As Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower have mentioned recently, it's a different defense with Stephon Gilmore on the field. 

If Cam Newton can't prove to defenses that he's a capable passer, then yes. The Patriots would be a fairly easy offense to defend, no matter how strong their running game is. Just look at last season. They were one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the NFL (4.7 yards per carry, 8th in the NFL) but were the sixth-worst scoring offense in the league (20.4 points per game). Helping the Patriots this year is that their offensive weaponry is significantly improved. It's harder to stack the box with Nelson Agholor streaking down the field and Jonnu Smith threatening the seam. But defenses will force Newton to prove that he can take advantage of those explosive play threats with his arm.

 

JJ Taylor, Gunner Olszewski and Marvin Hall have received plenty of work in the return game. We've seen Jakobi Meyers (punt return) and Kyle Dugger (kick return) get some work in the kicking game as well. One of the reasons I think Sony Michel's spot could be in jeopardy, if the Patriots find a willing trade partner, is because Taylor's versatility could make him the kind of young, cost-effective player the Patriots would like to keep around. In theory he could back up James White offensively and Olszewski in the return game. And he's shown promise as a between-the-tackles runner as well, despite his size. Anyone called "Little Dion," referring to Dion Lewis, by running backs coach Ivan Fears deserves a good long look at a spot on the 53-man roster.