After a day off yesterday, the New England Patriots will return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium today – and they will not be alone. The Jacksonville Jaguars will join the defending world champions for three joint practices leading up to the two teams’ meeting in the preseason opener on Thursday. Today and tomorrow, the Patriots and Jaguars will hold sessions open to the public before a closed walkthrough on Wednesday.
With the upcoming three sessions mind, here are four things to watch.
The Patriots’ rookies will have their first test against different NFL competition.
Despite having a deep and experienced roster, some members of the Patriots’ 2017 rookie class have been among the standout performers during training camp so far. With the Jaguars coming to town, they – most promintently defensive edge Deatrich Wise Jr., linebacker Harvey Langi and wide receiver Austin Carr – will face a different kind of challenge.
After all, New England’s young guns have only had NFL-level experience of going against their own teammates who play in the team’s own scheme. Competing on a different level will be the next step in determining whether or not the Patriots’ rookie class is indeed as impressive as it has looked like the last two weeks.
New England’s secondary will benefit from going against the Jaguars…
The Patriots are scheduled to face some big-name receivers on their upcoming schedule. Atlanta's Julio Jones headlines a list that also includes Denver's Demaryius Thomas, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Los Angeles’ Keenan Allen. New England’s sparing partner for the next week also has some highly talented wideouts on its roster in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
All of the players listed above have one thing in common: Their physical build is different than what the Patriots’ have on their roster at the wide receiver position (except rookie Cody Hollister). Going against Robinson and Hurns will therefore be a good challenge for New England’s secondary and particularly the team’s top cornerbacks. Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe.
…as will the defensive front seven.
The Jaguars not only have talented wide receivers on their roster – their running backs might be even better. Led by the fourth overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft, Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville features dangerous weapons between the tackles and on the perimeter. Fournette is the most talented of a bunch that also includes T.J. Yeldon and versatile former New York Jets runner Chris Ivory.
The trio will pose a nice challenge for New England’s defensive front seven – a group that is without starters Dont’a Hightower and Alan Branch (temporarily) and Rob Ninkovich (permanently). New faces like Lawrence Guy, David Harris and rookies Deatrich Wise Jr. and Derek Rivers will be put to the test quickly.
We might get a first look at the Patriots’ offensive firepower.
New England has invested considerable resources into its offense over the course of the offseason: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks and tight end Dwayne Allen were acquired via trade, while running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead were brought aboard through free agency. Together with the returning cast of skill position players they form one of the deepest offensive units in recent memory.
So far during training camp, the potential firepower has only been on display in stretches and in a rather controlled environment. Against the Jaguars, however, we might get another glimpse at what the ceiling of this highly talented group of players might be – and how their chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady and other members of the unit is developing.