Patriots

Postcard from Patriots Training Camp: N'Keal Harry bounces back on Day 7

Postcard from Patriots Training Camp: N'Keal Harry bounces back on Day 7

FOXBORO — The Patriots were back on the practice fields behind Gillette for their seventh practice of training camp. It was in full pads. It was competitive. Let’s get to what we saw . . .

WHAT THEY WORE

Full pads. Again. In the heat. Again. These are what you might consider the "dog days" of camp. Especially since the next two weeks of practice will be spiced up by joint sessions with the Lions and Titans. Patrick Chung remained in a red non-contact jersey.

ROLL CALL

No additions off the physically unable to perform list Thursday. Nate Ebner, Ken Webster and Demaryius Thomas all remained out. As did the non-football injury list duo of Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste. Lance Kendricks was a new absence, but that should come as no surprise since he was forced to leave Wednesday's session early. 

QUARTERBACKS PERFORMANCES

Tom Brady went 8-for-13 in competitive 11-on-11 periods. And those numbers should've been better. In the span of four plays, he had two passes dropped by tight ends. Ben Watson was responsible for one. Matt LaCosse was responsible for the other. Both players have had inconsistent hands through seven days of practice. That's three drops in two days for Watson and two for LaCosse. One of Brady's best throws went to LaCosse down the seam before Duron Harmon could get there to disrupt it. He also lobbed one high to Jakobi Meyers that was snatched out of the air by the rookie with Jason McCourty in close coverage. More on Meyers later . . . 

Brian Hoyer went 4-for-5 in competitive 11-on-11 work. He started slow, missing a wide open N'Keal Harry on a post-corner route that was well-executed by the first-round pick. The pass was well underthrown and bounced away incomplete. However, Hoyer picked things up late. He scooped up a bad snap quickly, rolled right and hit Harry for a diving catch at one point in a hurry-up period. Soon thereafter, he connected with Harry deep down the field, lofting one for Harry to adjust to and come down with for about a 40-yard score with Joejuan Williams and Harmon in the area. 

Jarrett Stidham strung together a series of good-looking passes midway through the session. He went 3-for-4 in competitive periods, hitting Meyers on what was undoubtedly the play of the day. He squeezed one off deep down the sideline with Patrick Chung closing in as the safety helping corner Keion Crossen. Meyers left his feet, tapped the ball up into the air with one hand and landed safely, totally under control, for the touchdown catch. I tweeted after practice that it looked like a Dennis Rodman rebound. Not to be outdone, one play later, Harry submitted an impressive touchdown grab of his own while working with Stidham. The rookie quarterback once again chucked one down the sideline — same route, same throw, same side of the field — and Harry laid out for the diving touchdown grab. One snap later . . . Stidham went back to the well again with Meyers back in the huddle. His throw on the third attempt sailed just a touch. Meyers made another acrobatic catch, but he landed out of bounds. If that trio ends up being the core of the Patriots passing game — in, say, 2023? — we'll look back on this practice as the day we saw it all start. Getting ahead of ourselves? Uh, yeah. Definitely. Still, it was an entertaining show of skill between Stidham's throws and the receivers' contested catches.

TRENCH ONE-ON-ONES

Patriots linemen got more than their fill of one-on-ones on Thursday as they double-dipped with two different periods focused on beating the man across from you. Here's who stood out... 

* Joe Thuney remains one of the team's best in this regard, notching victories of Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Michael Bennett. Bennett, though, got the best of Thuney on one late rep. That was Thuney's first loss of camp from what we've seen. 

* David Andrews is looking more and more like a full participant after missing the early portion of camp. He handled Danny Shelton on one rep and then later wrestled Mike Pennel to the ground. Hard to say who wins on a rep like that — neither side wants to end up on the turf — but we gave the edge to Andrews.

* Deatrich Wise — another player who is getting healthier and participating more as camp rolls on — was very active in the one-on-ones. He beat Dan Skipper twice and made quick work of Cedrick Lang twice. He did have his hands full with Montrez Ivey on one rep. Lang and Tyree St. Louis also gave Wise good battles. For the third-year defensive end, taking that many reps after starting camp on the PUP list is a win unto itself. 

* Lang and Pennel both ran laps for jumping early. This may be an odd observation, but Pennel ran an impressive lap for a man his size (330 pounds). Oftentimes linemen laps are more power-walks with big arm swings than anything else. Pennel was actually moving. 

* Despite a rough moment later in practice (we'll get to that), Ferentz showed up with a strong performance in the one-on-ones, winning all three of his reps against Shelton and David Parry (twice). Ted Karras won two reps that we spotted as well. It's clear the Patriots have solid depth on their interior offensive line. 

* Rookies Hjalte Froholdt and Byron Cowart each came away with wins in their two reps against one another. Nick Thurman (one of the d-linemen getting lessons from Willie McGinest earlier this week) went 2-2 in his four reps, beating Tyler Gauthier and Lang, but dropping his reps with Karras and Froholdt. Froholdt also had a good rep against Shelton late in the period. 

RECEIVER VS. DEFENDER ONE-ON-ONES

Patriots defensive backs and pass-catchers got right into it, matching up one-on-one early in the practice. Here's who stood out . . . 

* Stephon Gilmore is always in tight coverage, regardless of the matchup, but he would've been flagged early for holding onto Dontrelle Inman's jersey. 

* Duke Dawson would've picked up a couple of penalties of his own, getting too handsy with Braxton Berrios and Ryan Davis. Dawson had a strong rep on Gunner Olszewski later in the drill, and though the rookie caught the pass, Dawson seemed to think there was a little offensive pass interference on the play. 

* Second-year corners J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen both tallied breakups and rookie D'Angelo Ross had two. Ross has stood out at different points with solid ball skills in camp. 

* Good battles between Harry and Williams — the first- and second-round rookies — led to one incomplete pass to Harry and another competed dig to the Arizona State product.

* The single best rep of the period came with J.C. Jackson jamming Jakobi Meyers and nearly stoning him at the line of scrimmage. Meyers eventually recovered, broke off his crossing route and made a diving catch. 

GOAL LINE

The Patriots offense struggled at the goal line yet again on Day 7. Brady threw a play-action touchdown pass to Watson on their first rep. But on the next three running plays, the offense was stuffed every time. Obi Melifonwu sliced through the line to help on one stop, rookie linebacker Terez Hall was there for another, and Parry was stout in the middle to stop the final attempt.

OBSERVATIONS OF NOTE

* While the Patriots offense was better on Thursday after a rough day Wednesday, they still had their issues. During one stretch of 11-on-11 play, Shaq Mason jumped for a false start penalty. He ran a lap. James Ferentz subbed in to play right guard while Mason endured his punishment. Then Ferentz jumped. That earned the entire offense a lap. Once they got back to the line of scrimmage, they got an earful from Bill Belichick and got back to work. On the first snap after their talking-to . . . more ugliness. Sony Michel fumbled. That earned the entire offense another lap. Brutal stretch. 

* Elandon Roberts, who sometimes gets lost in the linebacker conversation, was out there alongside Dont'a Hightower in running situations in the middle of the defense. He still seems to be a valued asset in spots where a hard-hitting linebacker can make an impact: early downs, short-yardage, goal-line.

* The Patriots defense had a little different look to their "big nickel" defense at times with Devin McCourty getting a breather and Chung, Harmon and Terrence Brooks on the field. Brooks continues to get time defensively after spending the majority of his career as a special-teamer before his arrival to New England. 

* The Patriots switched things up allowing the offense to play some defense and the defense to play some offense at the end of practice (as they did last year at the end of the seventh practice). Devin McCourty drew up the plays for the "offense" and dialed up a nicely-executed jet-sweep to Jonathan Jones for a touchdown. But Stephon Gilmore, a high school quarterback, watched his fade to Jamie Collins bounce away incomplete. On the next snap, a screen pass to Harmon, Harry made a strong tackle to stop Harmon short of the goal line. McCourty indicated after practice he didn't have full buy-in from his "offensive" teammates. Lost the locker room after having it for about five minutes, apparently. Not great for his coaching résumé.

POPPED OR DROPPED?

We did a "Popped or Dropped" segment on Quick Slants the Podcast this week, and it makes sense to bring it to the Postcard as well. Here's who's trending up (or not) after Thursday's workout. 

POPPED

Meyers: Again. He continues to make acrobatic catches as well as the more routine ones. And he continues to get reps with Brady. It's not just side-sessions with the future Hall of Famer anymore. During a hurry-up period late, after tight ends dropped two passes and the Patriots were looking to make some yardage, Brady looked to Meyers over the middle and he delivered.

Harry: After a tough practice one day prior, Harry's athleticism and contested-catch ability re-emerged on Thursday. His diving grab on a Stidham fade and his adjustment to a bomb from Hoyer late were two of the best plays of the day. 

Goal line defense: Going 3-for-4 is always good. The big bodies against the run in the middle — because the offense's one score came on a pass — should be particularly happy with their effort.

DROPPED

Dawson: The one-on-one stuff would pretty easily earn him flags in a game situation. He hasn't yet had a string of consistently positive plays. 

Michel: Can't cough one up after the entire offense just ran a lap. Even if there was something off about the exchange from Brady.

Goal line offense: The offensive line had itself a hard time. Penalties from Mason and Ferentz that led to laps? An inability to create space from the one? They've had better days.

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Patriots QB Cam Newton given this jersey number with his new team

Patriots QB Cam Newton given this jersey number with his new team

The New England Patriots made the signing of quarterback Cam Newton official on Wednesday, and while it might be weird for some NFL fans to see the former MVP in a red, white and blue jersey this coming season, there is one part of his gameday look that will remain the same.

Newton will again wear the No. 1 jersey, according to the team's official roster page. This is the same number he wore during the first nine seasons of his career with the Carolina Panthers. 

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You might be surprised to learn that Newton will be just the fourth player in Patriots history to wear the No. 1 jersey and the first to do it since 1987, per Pro Football Reference's data. The other three players to wear No. 1 for the Patriots are former kickers Tony Franklin, Eric Schubert and John Smith. And, of course, the Pat Patriot mascot also wears No. 1.

Whether Newton ends up being the Patriots' No. 1 quarterback for Week 1 of the 2020 regular season remains to be seen. He's the favorite to win the starting job following Tom Brady's departure in March, but 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer also are on the depth chart and should provide competition for Newton. 

Next Pats Podcast: How can Pats maximize Harry's talent? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Next Pats Podcast: How can Patriots utilize N'Keal Harry more in 2020?

Next Pats Podcast: How can Patriots utilize N'Keal Harry more in 2020?

N'Keal Harry had his rookie season derailed by injuries, but that has done little to lessen expectations ahead of his second NFL campaign.

The New England Patriots wide receiver has obvious talent. The team selected him in the first round (32nd overall) of the 2018 draft after a successful college career at Arizona State, and when Harry did get onto the field with the Patriots, he showed flashes of his impressive skills.

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One of the challenges for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels this coming season is finding ways to get Harry more involved in the offense and maximizing his abilities. 

How can the Patriots accomplish that goal? Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo joined the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast to break down his expectations for Harry and ways the Patriots can use him.

"I think he'll get better as the years go on. I think what has to happen is people need to change their expectations sometimes for receivers, especially first-round wide receivers," Palazzolo told our Patriots insider Phil Perry. "We're talking about a position where there's three starters, and not every receiver is going to be Julio Jones, and not every starter is going to be as good as Julian Edelman -- a guy you can depend on to get open in crunch time and third down.

"When we evaluated Harry coming out (of college), his skill set reminded us a lot of Demaryius Thomas, who, when you look at his best work, he was catching the ball and running well after the catch, as well as making contested catches. Harry did struggle separating, which is kind of an important point for receivers. He struggled getting open. I think if the expectations are, right or wrong, here's a guy we can scheme some stuff up for -- that back-shoulder touchdown he had from Tom Brady, that's the type of stuff, the vertical route tree, contested catches, using his big body. That's the type of stuff you can expect from him, but you probably don't want to feed him 150 targets and say go be the No. 1 wide receiver. I think Harry is more of a complimentary piece."

Next Pats Podcast: How can Pats maximize Harry's talent? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

One way to put pressure on defenses and use Harry's strength and athleticism is giving him the ball on running plays. We've seen plenty of wideouts run gadget plays to take advantage of mismatches, and Harry could be used in a similar role for New England.

"If the Patriots do get creative with N'Keal Harry to get the ball in his hands, you could hand it off to him, you could put him out there, he'll have a cornerback matched up with him. And then the defense will have to figure out its run fits -- how do I get enough guys in the box to stop this guy?" Palazzolo said. "So whether it's the jet sweep game, whether it's just legitimately putting him in the backfield as a running back, I think there is a world where N'Keal Harry could be maximized and give you that advantage over defenses."

For the entire Harry conversation between Perry and Palazzolo, check out the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below: