Yesterday, for the first time since their victory in Super Bowl 53, the New England Patriots took the field in full pads. Granted, it was only practice, but it was still the next step towards the upcoming season and the world champions’ quest to defend their title. The Patriots being in full football gear was not the only story to come out of Foxboro on Saturday, however, so let’s open the notebook before heading into the next day.
New England opens the full pad portion of camp rather slowly
While the team wore full pads, Saturday’s practice was comparatively light. The session took only around 90 minutes — usually it is around two hours in length — as the coaching staff apparently did not want to over-work its players. As a result, the action was mostly focusing on the running game while one-on-one pass rushing drills were limited to two reps per player. Expect the physicality to increase as training camp rolls along.
Sony Michel’s return gives the Patriots a full deck at running back
Arguably the biggest story of Saturday’s session was the return of second-year running back Sony Michel. As noted yesterday, he moved well and did not show any signs of rust albeit in limited action (he sat out 11-on-11 drills). Still, his return is good news for the Patriots as it gives the team a full deck at running back. With Michel back and looking as if he did not skip a beat, the Patriots can start working out their rotation heading into the season — especially when it comes to potential 1B/short-yardage/goal line back Damien Harris, who took most of the starter reps with Michel absent.
No need to worry about Tom Brady and the passing game just yet
As noted above, the Patriots focused primarily on the running game on Saturday which meant limited action for Tom Brady and company. When the future Hall of Famer took the field, however, he was fairly inefficient to say the least: he completed just two of eight attempts during team sessions, while all four of his passes thrown during 11-on-11 hit the ground. Not all of the throws were necessarily his fault, though.
Two of the incompletions appeared to be miscommunications with his intended targets: Brady and rookie receiver N’Keal Harry were not on the same page during the first team session, while the quarterback and veteran running back Rex Burkhead also had a misunderstanding during the final 11-on-11 period. Furthermore, the Patriots’ defensive backs stood out by forcing three incompletions with very good coverage.
All in all, yesterday’s slow practice should therefore be classified under ‘growing pains’ more than anything else.
Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson are the top two tight ends
At one point during practice, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and assistant coach Nick Caley had a separate workout away from the team involving two of the club’s six tight ends: Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson. The side-session was further confirmation of the current pecking order at the position — it’s LaCosse and Watson at the top, with everyone else clearly behind them. The question will be who takes Watson’s spot when the veteran’s four-game suspension kicks in. So far, no other tight end has stood out.
Nick Caserio won’t comment on Texans’ pursuit of him
Speaking of Nick Caserio, he took the podium on Saturday — a rather unusual development, as reporters usually only hear from him around the draft. But address the press he did to speak about Michel’s return, the Hall of Fame inductions of Rodney Harrison (Patriots) and Ty Law (Pro Football), and answer questions. Numerous of them were, of course, about the Houston Texans’ pursuit of him earlier this offseason. Caserio’s comments were not at all surprising.
“I’d say I’m pretty honored and privileged to be in the position I’m in, to work for this organization,” Caserio said when asked about his feelings on the situation. “It’s a great organization with a lot of great people. I’m thankful for the opportunity that I have each day to come to work and come into this building. We’ve got a lot of great people. I’m fortunate and honored to work with Bill [Belichick] on a day-to-day basis and a lot of other people in this organization.”
“My job is really just to serve the people that are in this building and we’ve got a lot of great people. My focus is in trying to do the best that I can every day and be the best version of myself for this team and this organization and that’s what the focus is,” continued Caserio, who essentially is the Patriots’ general manager but does not hold the title — this, in turn, makes it possible for other teams to pursue him even though he reportedly has a non-interview clause in his deal.
When asked about the club essentially blocking him from speaking to other teams, Caserio wouldn’t give anything away: “I love being here, and right now we’re focused on trying to get the team ready for this season. I’m happy to be here and I love what I do on a day-to-day basis. [...] Right now, my focus is on this football team and that’s where it’s always going to be.”