We get our first media access to a 2019 Patriots practice today. Now there are ruuuullllles in place, so it’s not a conventional practice by any stretch. Players are only allowed to wear protective knee and elbow pads and their helmets. There’s no “live” contact, meaning players are working techniques but not using any force.
There will be, however, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills so we’ll get our beady, little eyes on that activity.
What will my beady eyes seek? Well, Bill Belichick likes to make it tough on us at these OTAs and minicamps by having players wear jerseys without numbers. So, for the first portion of the practice, I’ll be trying to figure out who’s there and who’s who. Once done, I’m keying on …
WHO IS DOWN?
This stuff is voluntary so every player who isn’t on the field — like the most important one they have, Tom Brady — isn’t necessarily in disrepair. But we have a mental list of guys we won’t see out there. Demaryius Thomas, Patrick Chung, Isaiah Wynn, Ja’Whaun Bentley and rookie Yodny Cajuste are all coming back from surgeries. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is reportedly not going to be in attendance either. Some guys will take part in limited capacities, I’m sure, which will be indicators of their not being full-go here at the end of May. All that will be important to weigh when watching who is working where.
WHO IS WORKING WHERE?
Now, this would probably be the worst time of year to draw long-term conclusions based on deployment. The Patriots covet versatility. Since they already know positions young players have generally mastered, they stick guys in unfamiliar spots to see if there are there others they can play as well. This helps build depth if worse comes to worst. All that said, it will be instructive to me if I see N’Keal Harry or Dontrelle Inman taking reps in the slot. And it will be worth noting where Jamie Collins is being used and who he’s on the field with. Again, no conclusions. Just info.
The Patriots have an armada of first- and second-year players. From the 2018 draft, I want to see what Wynn, Duke Dawson, Bentley, Christian Sam, Braxton Berrios, Danny Etling and Ryan Izzo look like. I also need to get eyes on Harry and JoeJuan Williams, the Patriots first two picks last month. Auburn slot receiver Ryan Davis also has me intrigued. He was a UDFA. And I definitely want to see how the ball comes out of Jarrett Stidham’s hand relative to second-year quarterback Danny Etling and Brian Hoyer. They say that, in shorts and a t-shirt, it’s hard to find a better pure thrower than Stidham.
COACHING 'EM UP
There are new coaches all over the staff. Jerod Mayo’s working with the linebackers, Joe Judge has gone from special teams to wideouts, Bret Bielema has the defensive line… it’s been a big shuffle. And they are learning just as much as the players. Watching their bedside manner and the tempo of the workout — which is always pretty quick and urgent — will be interesting.
TIGHT ENDS IN FOCUS
The Gronk void needs filling. At least a portion of it. Izzo, rookie tight end Andrew Beck, Benjamin Watson and Matt LaCosse are the ones who will do it (in addition to Seferian-Jenkins). I’m intrigued by LaCosse. He didn’t play with terrific quarterbacks in Denver, the Patriots targeted him early in free agency, he seems to move well and catch naturally. Seeing him “live” may allow me a chance to anoint him as a very promising prospect as I did with Zach Sudfeld, all the Hollisters and anybody else over 6-foot-4 who seemed better at running and catching than I am.
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