The New England Patriots’ twelfth practice of this year’s training camp is in the books and it was certainly an interesting one — from Tom Brady looking good, to Isaiah Wynn seeing more action than at any point this summer, to the defense registering seven interceptions, the audience saw plenty of developments. However, there were far more stories to come out of Foxborough yesterday than those. Let’s therefore clean out the notebook and look at some of the other storylines.
Michael Bennett and Dan Skipper go at each other
While there was one quick incident during joint practices with the Detroit Lions last week, the Patriots usually kept their cool so far in training camp. Monday, however, saw tempers flare when offensive tackle Dan Skipper and defensive lineman Michael Bennett briefly went at each other — at least somewhat: following a 1-on-1 rep in which the blocker seemingly held the veteran defender, Bennett slapped Skipper on the head. The offensive lineman showed him his extended middle fingers as a response. That was about it, but it’s showing that we have reached the so-called ‘dog days of training camp.’
Belichick does not care about your roster bubble
A lot of talk during training camp is about the players on the roster bubble — those fighting for a spot on the 53-man team. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, however, does not seem to particularly care about the bubble and the players considered to currently be a part of it. During his press conference ahead of Monday’s practice, he made this clear as the following exchange shows:
Q: How impressed are you with some of the players who are considered to be on the bubble and can you provide any names as to who some of those players might be?
BB: Yeah, I don’t know what the bubble is.
Q: Guys who are fighting for a spot at the end of the roster and on the verge of being cut?
BB: I don’t know who that is. We go out there with all of the players, give them an opportunity, evaluate them. Some guys are improving. We’ll see where they end up. We’ll just take it day by day and try to do the best we can to try and put the most competitive team on the field that we can.
While we are still in mid-August and just entering the second week of preseason, it sure looks like Belichick is already in mid-season form.
Nate Ebner’s return adds another key special teams piece
The Patriots welcomed two players back to practice on Monday who previously spent time on the physically unable to perform list (PUP): rookie cornerback Ken Webster and core special teamer Nate Ebner were back on the practice fields. While Webster is projected to fight for a backup spot in the secondary and a role on special teams, Ebner adds another dynamic to the roster construction as he is essentially a lock to make the team.
While New England would save $2.2 million of his $2.8 million salary cap hit in case it moved on from the veteran, seeing the Patriots part ways with Ebner would classify as a surprise. After all, he led the team in kicking game snaps in three of the last four years (the only exception was 2017, when he suffered a torn ACL) and immediately resumed his role as the personal protector on the punt team upon his return to practice.
With Ebner back in the fold now, he cannot be placed on PUP again and will either have to make the 53-man roster or be released. With the latter highly unlikely, it means that he will return to his role as a key special teams presence alongside Matthew Slater, Brandon King, Jonathan Jones, Terrence Brooks and Brandon Bolden. While that is a lot of talent invested in the kicking game, the Patriots are obviously trying to make sure that last year’s inconsistencies won’t repeat themselves.
New England experiments with trick plays
At one point during yesterday’s practice, the Patriots ran a series of trick plays: a flea-flicker pass, a direct snap to running back James White, and a fake end-around. All three concepts were used regularly by the team in the past, and it would not be a surprise to see them again unveiled at one point in 2019. The question, however, will be who the team uses in such scenarios. One interesting name to come to mind is Jakobi Meyers.
The undrafted rookie, who is one of the standouts of this year’s camp so far, originally started his college career at N.C. State at quarterback before switching to wide receiver. Nevertheless, he knows how to throw a football and the Patriots might be willing to use this skill — just like they did with Julian Edelman in the past. And while ‘Jakobi Meyers option quarterback’ will not become a thing, it is another dimension teams will have to be prepared for.
No need to worry about Damien Harris just yet
Only one presumably healthy member of the Patriots’ rookie class did not see any snaps during last Thursday’s preseason opener in Detroit: third-round draft choice Damien Harris sat the game out. And while the running back was back on the practice field on Monday morning, he again did not see plenty of reps. Is it therefore time to worry about Harris? Not really, considering his position on the team.
After all, the Patriots have tremendous talent and depth ahead of him at running back and it seems obvious they are seeing Sony Michel as their lead back. Harris, as things stand right now, is a backup option at this point in time. Will he get his chances? Possibly, at least during the preseason. But as things stand right now, his role is more that of a ‘break glass in case of emergency’-type back than a true complement to Michel.