While they will hold a walkthrough together later today (one that is closed to the media), the joint work between the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans is effectively over. Yesterday’s session was the second that saw the two teams share the practice fields, and it looked similar to the first: temperatures reached the 90s, New England — led by a terrific Tom Brady — showed its talent in all three phases, and was shorthanded at the receiving positions.
While those were the main stories, let’s dig a little bit deeper and for a final time this summer clean out the training camp notebook.
Bill Belichick sounds optimistic about New England’s second-year cornerbacks
Ahead of Thursday’s practice, the Patriots’ head coach was asked about his team’s young defensive backs — specifically Duke Dawson and J.C. Jackson. The two second-year men, of course, had very different training camps up to this point: while Dawson struggled repeatedly and failed to show any visible progress compared to last year, Jackson is one of New England’s most consistent and reliable defensive backs.
According to Bill Belichick, however, both are trending in the right direction. “Way ahead of where he was last year, for sure — way ahead,” he said during his press conference when asked about the development of Dawson, who spent large portions of 2018 on injured reserve and was essentially redshirted for his rookie season. New England’s head coach also had a positive response to give when speaking about Jackson.
“He’s way ahead of where he was last year, too,” Belichick said about the former undrafted free agent, who delivered an outstanding rookie season — one that was statistically superior to Malcolm Butler’s back in 2014. “You know, he had a really good year for us, but a lot better understanding of our system, again of pro receivers, pro football schemes and so forth. I think all of our guys from last year have progressed forward this year, as they should.”
Following Belichick’s praise, both players delivered a good practice against the Titans: while Dawson had arguably his best session since joining New England in the second round of the draft last year, Jackson continued to show starter-level qualities. Whether both will make the team remains to be seen — Jackson is a lock, Dawson appears to be on the bubble — but their head coach sounds optimistic when it comes to their development.
The Patriots’ secondary shows its depth again
New England’s defensive backfield as a whole looked very good against Tennessee on Thursday. Led by All-Pro Stephon Gilmore, who did not allow a single catch, the unit’s potential and depth were on full display yet again: Jackson and Dawson had good days, Jonathan Jones nearly registered an interception, while Jason McCourty and rookie Joejuan Williams both had pass-breakups. During a 7-on-7 red zone drill, the secondary was at its best and showed tremendous communication and understanding of opposing concepts. Barring any injuries, the group will be fun to watch this year.
Malcolm Butler praises the toughness of the Patriots’ rookie receivers
With multiple players higher up on the depth chart being out because of injury, the team’s undrafted rookie wide receivers saw considerable action for the second straight day. Ex-Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler, who met with reporters after the session, did speak highly about the youngsters and pointed out two in particular: Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers, the latter already a standout performer during camp.
“They are tough, man,” said Butler when asked about the remaining members of the Patriots’ depleted pass catching arsenal. “They are tough. Especially that number 9 [Olszewski] and number 16 [Meyers]. Those guys are tough. I don’t know their names, but I know that organization, and they only want hard-working guys, guys that will give full effort and the expectation is real high — especially when you’ve got [Tom Brady] back there.”
Meyers, as noted above, was terrific so far this summer: he again was New England’s best wide receiver on Thursday, catching all four of the passes Brady threw his way. Olszewski, meanwhile, continues to be on the roster bubble but he is making strides and saw his first-ever targets from the Patriots’ quarterback during team drills. That being said, as opposed to Meyers, he still appears to be on the outside looking in.
Don’t sleep on Demaryius Thomas
With a large portion of the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart nursing injuries, one name to keep in mind is Demaryius Thomas. The offseason signing spent the entire spring rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his 2018 season in late December, and is still on the physically unable to perform list. But while he has yet to come off it and appear in an actual practice, it looks as if he is making progress in his quest back.
Yesterday, the 31-year-old was spotted running sprints before practice began and appeared to move well. While this is hardly an indication about his status, it is an encouraging sign to see Thomas out on the practice field and doing workouts. The Patriots still have three weeks to activate him off PUP, but even if they do not at this point in time his season does not necessarily have to be over: after six games, the club again has another chance to activate him. Depending on the status of the receiver position at that point, it would not be a surprise to see such a move happen.
Tempers flare between the Patriots and Titans
Thursday’s practice was another physical affair, and sometimes this physicality went a bit too far. Midway through the session, an intense battle between Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Brown during 11-on-11s led to a skirmish. Later, defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu was involved in an altercation during 1-on-1 work that led to some shoving and the exchange of words. Patriots defender Michael Bennett and Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan also were involved. No players were sent off as cooler heads ultimately prevailed.