Bill Belichick called fully-padded practices "real football" the other day, and session No. 10 for the Patriots was maybe as close as the team has gotten to real football so far this summer.
On the field... on a Sunday... with heavy contact... and injuries. And when it came to the quarterbacks, the performances felt realistic as well. Some good passes thrown, accurately and on time. Some not. Sacks taken, as well, perhaps as a result of pre-snap miscues.
Neither Mac Jones nor Cam Newton looked like All-Pros. No one is expecting them to. But the question is can either one limit their mistakes in order to keep the Patriots in games. As close to "real football" as Sunday's workout may have been, that's harder to answer until the stakes are real.
Let's dive into the details of the quarterback work.
The competitive 11-on-11 work began toward the end of the session when the top offensive and defensive players squared off while music blared from the public address system.
In that stretch of practice, Newton went 4-for-4 and took two sacks. When Jones came in against top-tier defenders, he went 3-for-4 and was sacked twice. (Neither quarterback was actually hit, of course, but defenders got into the backfield and thwarted reps for "sacks" on both quarterbacks.)
In the 7-on-7 portion of the workout, Newton was first up -- as he continues to be in all periods -- and went 2-for-4 with an interception thrown to Devin McCourty and a drop by Jakobi Meyers. Jones, meanwhile, went 3-for-4 with an interception thrown to Michael Jackson.
|Cam Newton||4 for 4||2 for 4, INT||6 for 8 (75%)|
|Mac Jones||3 for 4||3 for 4, INT||6 for 8 (75%)|
Early in the practice -- with Belichick maybe going off-schedule to call for a quick team period on the goal line -- the top offense and defense went at it for three competitive reps.
Damien Harris was stuffed on the first by Adrian Phillips and Kyle Van Noy. Harris scooted into the end zone on the second snap. That made the third rep a winner-take-all scenario with a lap on the line. Newton dropped back to pass and never got a throw off. He was sacked by a rushing Dont'a Hightower. Lap for the offense.
The lines in the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 competitive periods for the team's top two quarterbacks were as follows: Newton went 6-for-8 with an interception and three sacks taken; Jones went 6-for-8 with an interception and two sacks taken.
Newton flashes deep-ball accuracy: As the numbers above might suggest, there wasn't all that much competitive passing going down Sunday. It was a run-heavy practice. But when Newton had a chance to air it out, he showed that he still has the ability to occasionally drop a down-the-field dime.
It happened early in the practice, when Newton chucked one deep to N'Keal Harry. The throw was a little long, but Harry -- who'd shaken Joejuan Williams with a double move -- had enough room to lay out and reel it in for an explosive completion.
Newton later missed Harry in an 11-on-11 period against defensive reserves deep down the field. But accurate passes to Meyers deep (dropped by Meyers) and Kristian Wilkerson were a couple of Newton's highlight throws of the day. The bomb to Wilkerson, with Jalen Mills in coverage, was plopped in the bucket from about 40 yards away and had center David Andrews all kinds of fired up.
Those throws were reminiscent of the day Newton put together early last week -- Tuesday's fully-padded session -- that featured nary a miss. Unlike that particular practice, though, Sunday's was dotted with mistakes.
In the early competitive goal-line period, Newton hesitated to get the ball out on the do-or-die third snap. He waited, pumped, and eventually Hightower got into the backfield to put a clear end to the play. Even Newton acknowledged the gig was up. He never even attempted a throw.
That hesitation showed up later in the 7-on-7 period. On a hitch to Kendrick Bourne, Newton stared down his target and the pass was nearly broken up by J.C. Jackson. Bourne held on for the tough contested grab. There was another mistake late as Newton targeted Meyers on an out-breaking route but threw well behind the wideout. Devin McCourty, seemingly reading Newton's eyes, easily broke on the ball and picked it off.
Newton took two sacks -- one from Josh Uche and one with Matt Judon and Hightower mucking up the pocket -- in the competitive 11-on-11 work at the end. He also called a timeout at the line of scrimmage at one point, which is unusual to see in camp practices. Kyle Van Noy raised his palms to the sky when he saw Newton signal for a break, apparently confused as to why the offense needed to regroup.
The Patriots defense -- a versatile group of athletes, many with loads of NFL experience -- is expected to be a tricky one to decipher, and it seemed to give Newton his share of headaches over the course of Sunday's work.
Jones slower on the draw: Newton wasn't the only one dogged by the Patriots defense. Whether it was pre-snap or post-snap, Jones appeared to have multiple instances of brain freeze in practice No. 10.
Early in the workout, Jones was sacked on back-to-back reps working against reserve defenders taking their calls from cards. Cody Davis flew in off the edge unblocked on the first, and Nick Thurman later knifed into the backfield on the second. Whereas getting the ball out quickly has been a hallmark of Jones' game through the majority of training camp, that wasn't always the case Sunday.
In the 7-on-7 period, Jones threw well behind his intended target and was picked off by Michael Jackson over the middle. On the very next snap, Jones checked one down to Jonnu Smith but held onto the football for an extended period of time in the pocket beforehand. Had that been an 11-on-11 play, it might've resulted in a sack.
Later in the competitive 11-on-11 period, Jones was sacked twice. The first came when it looked like Uche, McCourty and Kyle Dugger all met in the backfield to win the rep. Later, Jones held onto the football for several beats before Deatrich Wise finally got to him.
Whether it was pre-snap disguise, good coverage, or both, Jones had his hands full as a decision-maker on Sunday. As a result, the ball stuck in his hands longer than he would've liked on several occasions.
It wasn't all bad for Jones, though. On back-to-back snaps in 11-on-11 work early on, he hit Meyers (on a deep over route) and Smith (up the seam) with on-time and accurate throws. Slants to Wilkerson, Bourne and Harry all were well-placed out in front of their targets. Jones also did well to step up and avoid a strong Judon rush to hit Bourne for another chunk gain.
Jones seemed more assertive at the line of scrimmage with his calls as well -- particularly at the end of the practice in the hurry-up period. Those moments have to be encouraging for the Patriots coaching staff. Still, plenty for the rookie to learn from in his latest camp performance.