The New England Patriots are two days into their joint work with the Detroit Lions, and the second of which can certainly be classified as a learning experience. The world champions were sloppy at times, and as a result had their fair share of ups and downs. This inconsistency is not the only story to come out of Allen Park, Michigan yesterday, however. Let’s therefore clean out the notebook to take a look at some other developments and musings.
The Patriots’ defensive backs need to be more careful with penalties
New England’s secondary projects to be one of the best in the NFL this season, and one of the strongest units on the roster. That does not mean that there is no room for improvement, though, as was evident on Tuesday. Not only did the unit allow Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to go four-for-four with a touchdown during a two-minute drill, it also had some struggles when it comes to penalties.
For head coach Bill Belichick, this is part of the learning process and having officials available for the first time all summer should certainly help. “We haven’t really had a lot of new rules come up out there in practice, but it’s good for the players to have the officials view the play and determine whether it’s holding or illegal contact or whatever,” he said during his press conference on Monday
“Some of those are somewhat close calls, and how the coach would see it and maybe how the player sees it in practice is one thing, but it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is how the official sees it,” continued Belichick. “If it’s illegal contact, we hit them too deep. If it’s holding, then we held them. If we DPI’ed [defensive pass interference] them or OPI’ed [offensive pass interference], then it was too much.”
On Tuesday, the Patriots had some calls go against them. Second-year cornerback J.C. Jackson, for example, was flagged for illegal contact during a 1-on-1 period. Jackson has had his fair share of issues with penalties during his otherwise encouraging 2018 rookie season, so this has to be something he and the coaching staff need to keep an eye on — something that holds true for the entire pass defense, though.
“I think it’s good for us to understand those little small variations, the what’s okay and isn’t okay,” said Belichick about teaching his players. “You know everybody’s trying to be aggressive and compete and all of that, but there’s a certain line there that you have to stay below, and this does a good job of identifying it for us. I thought they did a real good job out there [on Monday] of throwing the flags, of calling infractions, and we need to eliminate them and try to play penalty free. But, they identified them well and so that was very helpful.”
Danny Shelton appears to be on his way to making the team
When the Patriots re-signed Danny Shelton this offseason, his position on the team was clear: he was on the bubble and needed to earn his spot on the roster. Ten practices into training camp, it appears as if he is doing just that. Shelton again saw considerable action as the nose tackle in three-man fronts on Tuesday, and looked good defending the run. While free agency acquisition Mike Pennel is still the front-runner to serve as the big early-down tackle, Shelton’s rotational potential cannot be underestimated either.
Communication, identification are being worked on
One of the big advantages of joint practices is getting players in a new environment where they have to face unfamiliar situations. This holds especially true when it comes to play and personnel recognition as well as communication on both sides of the ball, as Belichick pointed out Tuesday: “A lot of times it’s easy for us to identify who’s who because we practice against them for all of spring and — whatever, eight practices — in training camp.”
“So, when you’ve gone against the same group for 18 practices, it’s not that mysterious,” continued the Patriots’ head coach when talking about one crucial benefit of the current joint work. “Here, things happen faster and you’re less familiar with the team and what they do and so forth, so it’s more challenging. But, that’s real football, that’s what we have to deal with every week, so it’s good.”
New England is moving Duke Dawson around
The Patriots have had their fair share of disappointments in the past when it comes to second-round defensive backs — from Terrence Wheatley and Ras-I Dowling to Jordan Richards and Cyrus Jones. Duke Dawson, the 56th overall pick in last year’s draft, is far from that category but one has to wonder about his development after a practice like yesterday’s and an apparent lack of development this summer.
Dawson again had his issues as a slot cornerback — a position where he is clearly behind Jonathan Jones on the depth chart — so the team opted to move him to free safety at one point, with the same results. Luckily for the Patriots, they don’t need the second-year man to play a crucial role this season in a deep secondary. However, his long-term outlook remains unclear. Maybe a switch to safety might indeed turn his fortunes around.
Jakobi Meyers has an uncharacteristically quiet day
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Jakobi Meyers is the biggest surprise of New England’s training camp so far, but on Tuesday he was comparatively quiet. He did catch his lone target from Tom Brady during team drills, yes, but that was the highlight of his day as he also had some trouble separating during 1-on-1 work. Make no mistake, Meyers still was solid when running with the first-team offense as part of its two-receiver sets (alongside Phillip Dorsett) but he looked more like a rookie than he did in the previous sessions.