Earlier today, the New England Patriots returned to practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for the opening session of their 2019 training camp. The session itself was not the most competitive one considering that the team did not yet wear full pads — they will come on in two days — but it gave us a first impression of the players on the current roster, and who is trending in the right direction this early in the process.
The division into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, not all players had the same success today.
Winner: WR N’Keal Harry
After some growing pains during the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp, first-round rookie N’Keal Harry was among the standouts today. He got plenty of one-on-one action with quarterback Tom Brady, fared well in competitive drills, and also had the catch of the day when he out-jumped a defensive back for the football. All in all, the practice appeared to be another step in the right direction for a wide receiver that is expected to play a big role in New England’s offense this year.
Winner: CB Jonathan Jones
The first pass Brady threw during 2-on-2 drills was intercepted, and it was slot cornerback Jonathan Jones who picked the future Hall of Famer off. Jones beat second-year wideout Braxton Berrios for the ball — the signature play of what was generally a good outing for the 25-year-old. Considering that he finds himself in a competition for the top slot cornerback role, today’s practice can be considered a win for Jones. Speaking of that competition:
Loser: Duke Dawson Jr.
After basically being redshirted during his 2018 rookie season, Duke Dawson entered 2019 with plenty of expectations: the former second-round draft pick was seen as a potential challenger to earn rotational slot/free safety snaps in New England’s deep secondary. Judging by today’s practice, however, he still appears to clearly be behind the aforementioned Jonathan Jones on the depth chart. Dawson’s performance today did also not much to change this.
Winners: The undrafted rookie wide receivers (Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis)
With the Patriots only having two true roster locks at wide receiver — Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry — the other spots on the position depth chart are open for competition. And New England’s three undrafted rookies are attacking it head-on: Meyers, Davis and Olszewski were reliable targets today, with all of them looking particularly good during 2-on-2 drills. The odds are still against the trio, but if they can string together practices like today’s they will at least make the decision who to keep a tough one for the Patriots’ coaching staff.
Winner: OC James Ferentz
Given that the Patriots did not wear full pads for today’s practice, offensive line play could not be properly evaluated just yet. However, the current composition of the depth chart was on display and it is one that looks favorable for James Ferentz: the backup center, who was a vital member of New England’s scout team offense last year, was the number one option with starter David Andrews absent for undisclosed reasons. If the Patriots go six-deep along the interior line, Ferentz should make the team.
Loser: WR Damoun Patterson
While the other young wide receivers on the Patriots’ roster all performed well, second-year man Damoun Patterson had a tougher outing. The practice standout, who is in his first training camp with the club, was inconsistent as a pass catcher and did not help his standing on the roster. While things can change with full pads on, the first impression of Patterson was not exactly an inspiring one.
Loser: QB Danny Etling
Few players made the headlines quite like Danny Etling after today’s practice session: the second-year quarterback saw most of his action at wide receiver, as it looks like the Patriots plan on utilizing his talents elsewhere instead of having him as their fourth passer. However, Etling’s rawness as a pass catcher was on display all day. The 25-year-old has a long way to go, with time not necessarily being on his side.
Winner: CB J.C. Jackson
This observation may look differently had Stephon Gilmore been targeted during team drills. With the All-Pro having a relatively quiet morning, however, second-year cornerback J.C. Jackson took center stage as the best coverage defender on the field. The former undrafted free agent, who carved out a considerable role on the defense last year, appears to be on his way to make the famed second-year jump — a welcome development on an already deep secondary.