A week’s worth of practices is in the books, as the New England Patriots held their seventh session of training camp yesterday. While rookie receivers Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry stole most of the show and the subsequent headlines, their impressive outing was not the only thing worth reporting from Gillette Stadium yesterday. Let’s clean out the notebook to touch on some other storylines to emerge during Thursday’s two-hour practice.
New England’s offensive sloppiness continues
While the two rookie wide receivers were without a doubt impressive, the offense as a whole again struggled with consistency and sloppy play. Never was that more on display than during an 11-on-11 portion midway through the session — a segment that actually started quite well for Tom Brady and the starting unit. Starting with a false start by right guard Shaq Mason, however, things started to go downhill fast as the entire momentum built up during the drill was suddenly gone.
After Mason had started on his penalty lap, fellow offensive lineman James Ferentz jumped the snap. Head coach Bill Belichick then sent the entire offense on a journey around the field before addressing it. On the very next play, the sloppiness ensued as Brady and running back Sony Michel fumbled a snap. Another miscue, another lap to run. That three-play stretch is exemplary for the issues that has plagued the offense the last two days.
The offense knows it needs to show a short memory
Not all was bad for the offense, though, as it also had some impressive stretches on Thursday — just not consistently enough. As starting center and team captain David Andrews explained after practice, the good needs to be built on while the bad needs to be remembered in order not to make the same mistakes multiple times: “You don’t want to forget about the bad. You want to remember that, in a sense. You don’t want to let it paralyze you and the fear of messing up paralyze you, but you’ll remember what you did wrong and then correct it.”
“But you’ve got to go out there and play with kind of reckless abandon, so maybe mentally and emotionally forget about it, but mentally know it’s there and keep it moving,” the 27-year-old continued. Two examples of that were on display on Thursday: wide receivers N’Keal Harry and Braxton Berrios bounced back nicely after each had a forgettable Wednesday practice. If that kind of mental toughness is be shown by the entire offense, the miscues that have hurt it recently will be overcome.
D’Angelo Ross is in an unfortunate position
For the last two days, D’Angelo Ross has been competitive during his 1-on-1 reps and also saw some action with the starting defense. The undrafted rookie has certainly impressed as of late, but he finds himself in an unfortunate position: the Patriots’ secondary is so deep and filled with roster locks, it is hard to see Ross make the 53-man roster at this point in time — especially with Keion Crossen also looking good, and both Joejuan Williams and Duke Dawson getting in due to their draft status.
As things currently stand, Ross would therefore be a prime candidate for the practice squad if he clears the waiver wire on September 1. However, it is hard to see him go unclaimed — in case he is indeed released during roster cutdowns — if he can continue his development. Of course, a lot can and will change but right now the rookie still projects to be on the outside looking in despite a strong string of practices.
Sony Michel, receiving back?
During his 2018 rookie season, Sony Michel was not much of a factor in the passing game: he caught just 8 passes for 58 yards during his combined sixteen regular season and playoff games. Could this year look differently for Michel, who finished his college career with a total of 64 receptions? That remains to be seen, but if training camp so far is an indication we could expect more looks with him split out wide. Yesterday, for example, Michel was regularly used in that capacity.
New England is working on its 3-4 defensive looks
Trying to classify the Patriots’ defense as a 3-4 or 4-3 unit is a fool’s errand considering that the team is in a nickel formation most of the time anyway. That being said, the team was working on 3-4 looks on both Wednesday and Thursday. According to MassLive’s Andrew Callahan, the team used Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Adam Butler as the defensive linemen yesterday, with linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins also on the field.
The group features an intriguing mix of players, although one has to wonder whether or not Mike Pennel and Michael Bennett would be upgrades over Shelton — who does have a solid camp, to be fair — and Butler. Nevertheless, the gist remains: the Patriots have been spending considerable time working on their 3-4 looks. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be the first team to find out how or if New England is going to use them.