FOXBORO — The Patriots offense may be further along than it was expected to be the day they signed Cam Newton.
Their new quarterback has the ability to make certain calls at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't look lost in the pocket. He's already brought an unconventional (for the Patriots) rushing element to the attack orchestrated by Josh McDaniels.
"The improvement that he is making on a daily basis," quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch said of Newton, "are sometimes what you could see some other guys that have been in the same system for a few years make on a monthly basis."
But it's far from perfect. That's been evident over the course of the last few days as the Patriots have held multiple two-minute drill practice periods. It's in those moments when things have looked chaotic for Newton and the Patriots. It's in those moments the execution has been lacking.
"There are certain things when I come to the line of scrimmage," Newton said Wednesday, "and it's just not as firing mentally as I want it to be, rather than other plays that may be called."
Wednesday's hurry-up period featured Newton going 4-for-9 with an interception and a near-pick on another throw. He was sacked twice. He missed a wide open Mohamed Sanu deep down the field.
On Tuesday, Newton went 4-for-8 and had two rushed throws in the hurry-up periods. There was a failed fourth-down attempt, and there was a throwaway on third down with time expiring. On Monday, Newton went 2-for-5 and was sacked three times in the team's no-huddle snaps at the end of practice.
By my count, in 34 hurry-up snaps over the last three practices, Newton has gone 10-for-22 with a pick and he's been sacked five times.
The Patriots defense should — despite its losses this offseason — remain among the league's best. But that kind of offensive hit rate in the two-minute period is going to be something the Patriots want to clean up before hosting Miami at Gillette Stadium in two and a half weeks.
Newton knows it.
"It's a work in progress each and every day for me," he said Wednesday. "Every day is a work day. Every day is another day to learn more. I think that's an ongoing process for me . . . It's more or less trying to manage this offense in a way where I feel comfortable, and every day is a new challenge."
WHAT THEY WORE
Lighter session on Wednesday. Players were in shorts and shells.
WHO WAS OUT
Only four players. Beau Allen remains on the shelf. Same for Lamar Miller, who is still on the physically unable to perform list. Will Hastings, who has been limited through most of camp, was limited. Devin McCourty was a new absence.
Devin Asiasi, the rookie tight end who suffered an injury Tuesday, was limited Wednesday. The same was true for linebacker Terez Hall and receiver Jakobi Meyers. Kyle Dugger was on the field, but I didn't spot him participating in any team work.
WHO WAS IN
Sony Michel was removed from PUP to take part in Wednesday's practice. He looked light on his feet. Julian Edelman returned to work after missing Tuesday's workout. Adrian Phillips was also back on the field and participating after spending most of his time watching recent sessions. Undrafted rookie wideout Jeff Thomas was also back on the field Wednesday.
EYES ON HARRY
N'Keal Harry sought out a trainer during a special-teams period he wasn't involved in. His upper right leg was wrapped. He got back on the field for a side-session throw with Newton and looked fine. He ran a deep-out and lunged for the football, catching it cleanly and looking no worse for the wear. He remained active in the practice throughout.
WHAT THEY DID
After their team warmup and dynamic stretching period, the offense and defense broke off to work on their own. The offense began as the day would eventually end, with some hurry-up reps on air. That led into some non-competitive one-on-one reps where defensive backs allowed receivers to catch passes, and then receivers allowed defensive backs to make interceptions.
Next up was a 7-on-7 period where only Newton and Jarrett Stidham participated. That was followed by an 11-on-11 session with white noise piped in to simulate what players might have to listen to on game days this season.
Before the final hurry-up period of the morning, the Patriots ran a drill where backs and linebackers played a cat-and-mouse game. The backs had to try to press and pick the right hole. The 'backers had to pursue at a proper angle — after performing an up-down — and find the football. Newton joined the drill at the end, as he will likely factor into the Patriots' run game.
After the final two-minute hurry-up period (detailed above), the Patriots ran a punt and punt-return period. They finished off the day with a pursuit-angle drill focused on open-field tackling.
Even though it was a shorts-and-shells day, there wasn't a ton of throwing in this Patriots practice.
Jarrett Stidham's performance in the 7-on-7 period was noteworthy, though. He made perhaps the throw of the day, hitting Ryan Izzo down the seam, zipping the football just over a defender's fingertips. He also rifled a back-shoulder throw to N'Keal Harry along the sidelines with Michael Jackson there in tight coverage. Stidham went 6-for-6 in the period but didn't participate in 11-on-11s.
Newton didn't have any "wow" throws on the day, though he did make back-to-back accurate throws to Damiere Byrd and Julian Edelman. The pass to Edelman was nicely done in that it came on the run and still hit its target in stride. Newton's final throw of the day was likely his best, a high-arcing floater to Rex Burkhead in the back corner of the end zone from about 10 yards away. Burkhead dove to make the grab and then spiked it in front of his defensive teammates on the sidelines.
Newton had issues overthrowing Sanu, as he did so both in the 7-on-7 period and in 11-on-11s at the end of the practice. His first throw of the 11-on-11 hurry-up period was very nearly picked by Stephon Gilmore on a curl route that Gilmore read all the way. Terrence Brooks picked off Newton on an off-the-mark throw to Dalton Keene down the seam. Keene had no real shot at it, and Brooks made the easy pick.
Hoyer should've been picked by Brooks, too, but Brooks wasn't exactly ready for the pass — it was well off its intended line — and it fell to the turf incomplete. Hoyer also sailed one high to Gunner Olszewski, which very nearly led to a big-time collision.
Gunner Olszewski: He looks really athletic. Just about every day he has a moment where you look at him and say, "Is that the same guy who was here last year?" The play that stood out Wednesday was a one-handed snag where he jumped, while facing the quarterback, reached up with his right hand and palmed it in mid-air. Not quite Odell Beckham-esque . . . but in that vein.
"He’s definitely gotten better. I think he’s gotten stronger, gotten quicker," Stephon Gilmore said. "The longer you’re in that offense the better, so he has definitely taken a step from last year, competing against him, you know he’s going to go hard every snap. That’s one thing about him, he’s very fearless, he doesn’t care. That’s the way you have to be to be a good receiver in this league."
Stephon Gilmore: In his second day back from a lengthy absence, Gilmore looked like his old self. He nearly picked up Cam Newton while in sticky coverage on Damiere Byrd. He also made teammate Terrence Brooks fall down when he had the chance to carry the football in a pursuit-angle drill. He made a move that shook Brooks and sent him to the ground.
"We always go at the guys when we get to play offense, we try to give them moves. They know when I step up to the line that I’m going to give them something so it’s always fun when I go against them."
Terrence Brooks: The pick was nice. And he was in the right place at the right time to almost come up with another. What's helped Brooks the most lately has been his durability. Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips have missed recent days of practice. Devin McCourty was missing on Wednesday. Brooks has the ability to play as a versatile safety. But his most important ability right now might just be his availability.
Derek Rivers: Another day, another sack. He picked one up on Newton on the third-to-last snap in the 11-on-11 period. Over the last several days of practice, Rivers has looked like one of the team's best outside linebackers. The Patriots need a replacement for Kyle Van Noy. Could be Chase Winovich. Could be Shilique Calhoun. But Rivers has looked strong.
"He's had a very good camp and really is playing with a lot of confidence," Belichick said Wednesday. "He's gained a lot of strength and explosiveness, as well as rehabbing the injury . . . His overall body composition, strength, power is good."
Rivers could end up being one of the feel-good stories of camp. The 2017 third-rounder missed two of the first three years of his career due to injury, playing only six games in 2018.
Sony Michel: It wasn't a very heavy lift for Michel, but he did see reps in the 11-on-11 period that was focused on the running game in the middle of practice. He seemed to be moving quickly and he even caught a few passes when running routes on air.
How involved he becomes in the passing game moving forward will be worth watching. As a rookie, the Patriots ran the ball on three-quarters of Michel's snaps. Last season, that number fell but remained high. The team ran on about two-thirds of his snaps.
Cam Newton: It just wasn't a clean day from behind center for Newton. The job still looks like his to win, but it took six drop-backs in the two-minute drill at the end of practice before he completed his first pass. In a practice that should've lent itself to the pass game, in shells and shorts, the Patriots pass game did not look well-oiled.
Jermaine Eluemunor: Having had a solid camp, Eluemunor could be the answer at right tackle for the Patriots. He was on the scene for Rivers' sack late in the practice, though.
Punt-return team: Forced to run two laps due to substitution issues, it wasn't a great day for this unit. Even coaches Cam Achord and Troy Brown had to run.