Ugly day at the office a reminder it's trial by fire for Patriots pass-catchers

Ugly day at the office a reminder it's trial by fire for Patriots pass-catchers

FOXBORO — When it comes to Patriots training camp practices, you'd be hard-pressed to find an uglier offensive performance than the one they put together on Wednesday.

Eight passes were dropped. Eight more were broken up by defensive backs. The quarterbacks combined to complete less than half of their attempts in competitive 11-on-11 work (10-for-23 with an interception). First-round rookie N'Keal Harry, who accounted for four drops on his own, had to be coaxed into proper pre-snap position

Even James White, the team's most reliable pass-catcher with Julian Edelman out injured, looked off. He of the one career fumble in five pro seasons coughed one up into the hands of safety Obi Melifonwu late in the session.

"Yeah," White said after. "We obviously know we didn't practice to the best of our abilities today, but that's what camp is all about. Every day is not going to be perfect. There's going to be ups and downs. We'll learn from them and come out tomorrow."

Though things are just getting started, this is a critical point in the season for the Patriots. They tell us as much every year.

It's a time to set a foundation. It's a time to build up an understanding of the team's systems — both offensively and defensively — from one day to the next so that when the real games begin there's a variety of scenarios that have been practiced over and over and over again. It's a time for individual competition to find out which players are going to give the team the best chance to win come September and beyond.

So for the Patriots offense to put together a day like Wednesday's isn't exactly a shrug-your-shoulders-and-get-'em-tomorrow situation. These reps matter, we're told, and they almost universally stunk out loud in training camp practice No. 6.

But that stench emanating from the fields behind Gillette Stadium now should at some point result in something fruitful for Tom Brady, Josh McDaniels and whoever it is they're working with over the course of the 2019 campaign.

How? In a sink-or-swim league, they're learning who's doing what early.

Right now Brady is forced to throw to players like Harry, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Braxton Berrios, Matt LaCosse and Stephen Anderson. All are new in one respect or another. Some are new to the league. There have been growing pains.

Had Julian Edelman been healthy enough to practice at the start of camp, that might not have been the case. Or at least those growing pains would've been noticed to a lesser degree. The receiver depth chart would be one body deeper. Brady would have his favorite receiver to bail the offense out whenever reps started to get hairy or a practice (like Wednesday's, for example) felt like it was starting to spiral.

But there's value in the oodles of reps guys like Berrios and Harris have to juggle at the moment with Edelman's freed up. The initiation process has been accelerated. It's trial by fire out there. And, though it's early, it's providing results.

Harris has thrived with the work he's seen and looks well on his way to becoming a trusted weapon. He's caught just about everything thrown to him and has been in the right place at the right time consistently. Berrios, meanwhile, has had a vastly different camp experience. He will have more opportunities to make an impact, but the work he's gotten thus far has yielded little.

Berrios dropped one Wednesday and had three passes sent his way broken up by defensive backs. He caught one at the end of the workout, Brady's final attempt of the day, but it was a non-competitive throw that the defense allowed to be caught just in order to finish the drill. The offense had to get the field-goal unit on quickly and aligned from a manageable kicking distance — and after three straight incompletions, they needed some help.

Charity for efficiency's sake.

"We've got a very good defense this year," Brady said after. "Those guys are challenging us on every day. It's hard to complete passes on our secondary. That's just the reality. So, it's actually great work for our offense to see how we measure up against a very good defense. Days like today are frustrating for us and we've got to learn from the corrections and try to come out and have a better day tomorrow."

The learning aspect of the offense's camp struggles feels like more than quarterback cliché from Brady. He's probably learning who can and can't be trusted — or at least he's on his way — as he goes to work without Edelman. It was going to have to happen eventually. Better now than midseason when injuries strike or defenses sell out to take away Brady's security blanket.

Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio are probably learning just how aggressively they should work the phones in order to try to improve their receiver and tight end rooms via trade. Better now than when rosters have settled and teams become more reluctant to part with contributors.

With so many new pieces, in a complicated offense, going against a well-oiled defense, it's going to look ugly at times for the Patriots. It will again.

But if they have things figured out by October, as they typically do, with Edelman back in the mix and a couple of new faces established as legitimate passing-game options, they'll look back on practices like Wednesday's and say, "Better then than now."

Click here for Phil Perry's Patriots 53-man roster projection>>>>>

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Bill Belichick confident in Patriots' safety protocols despite opt-outs

Bill Belichick confident in Patriots' safety protocols despite opt-outs

The New England Patriots already have had eight players opt out of the 2020 NFL season, and few would blame Bill Belichick -- the oldest head coach in the league at 68 -- if he made a similar decision.

So, did concerns about COVID-19 lead Belichick to consider not coaching in 2020? It doesn't appear so.

"I feel very good about the environment that we're in," Belichick said Friday in a video conference with reporters. "I feel fine."

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Belichick also confirmed no coaches on his staff have backed out of the 2020 season.

The Patriots are in the "acclimation period" of training camp, with players going through non-padded walk-throughs outside Gillette Stadium as they ramp up for their first padded practice on Aug. 17.

According to Belichick, the players and staff in the building feel confident in their safety so far.

"I can't speak for everybody, but I think my impression is that as an organization, as a coaching staff, the support people, the players -- there's a comfort level with what we're doing and who's doing it and how we're doing it, and we're being productive," Belichick said.

"So, if concerns or problems come up, then we'll address those. But right now, I think it's a good working environment. We're getting a lot done."

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The Patriots, like every other team, have to follow rigorous safety protocols that include frequent COVID-19 tests, temperature checks and physical distancing measures. That "new normal" will take some getting used to, but Belichick believes the protocols have helped create an environment that coaches and staff feel safe in.

"The organization has taken a lot of steps to ensure everyone's safety and opportunity to do their job and do it safely and do it productively," Belichick said. 

"Certainly there's a lot of responsibility on each one of us to do things in a way that doesn't affect others negatively, that we take the proper precautions that we can and should, so that's what we're doing."

Mohamed Sanu shouts out Cam Newton in Patriots practice Instagram post

Mohamed Sanu shouts out Cam Newton in Patriots practice Instagram post

Mohamed Sanu finally doesn't have to fly across the country to work out with his new quarterback.

The New England Patriots began Phase 1 of training camp this week by hitting the practice field as a team outside Gillette Stadium.

That means Cam Newton joined his Patriots teammates in an official capacity for the first time, and Sanu seems pretty excited about having his new quarterback in the building.

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Here's the Instagram shout-out Sanu gave Newton Thursday on Instagram via a photo of the two in Patriots gear at training camp:

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Beannnn & Ace booogie wit da hoodie

A post shared by Mohamed Sanu Sr. (@mohamedsanu) on

Sanu and Newton teamed up for informal throwing sessions in Los Angeles just days after the 31-year-old quarterback signed with the Patriots in free agency and appeared to develop a strong connection.

Like Newton, Sanu has a lot to prove this season after an ankle injury plagued his 2019 campaign with New England. The 30-year-old sprained his ankle in his second game with the Patriots last season after a midseason trade from the Atlanta Falcons and caught three passes or fewer in his final six games of the season.

Sanu projects to be the Patriots' No. 2 wide receiver this season behind Julian Edelman, so if he can stay healthy, he could go a long way in helping Newton and the Patriots finding success this season despite a wave of player opt-outs.