The New England Patriots were back on the practice fields on Tuesday for the second straight day of full-pads work. The session itself was a continuation of Monday in that it focused on fundamentals more than installment — the same approach that was taken by the team in years past. With that being said, there was still a lot going on at Gillette Stadium, so let’s clean out the notebook from the workout.
Damien Harris’ usage stands out
With Sony Michel and Lamar Miller still on the physically unable to perform list, second-year running back Damien Harris has been the Patriots’ most active skill position player through two days of contact work. While his play on offense was impressive so far, his usage in the kicking game stands out as well: as ESPN’s Mike Reiss pointed out, Harris was also involved as a member of the Patriots’ kickoff return teams as one of the up-backs.
During his 2019 rookie season, Harris saw only limited playing time — he made the Patriots’ active roster on just two of a possible 17 occasions — in part because he did not regularly contribute in the kicking game. He did play five snaps on New England’s punt return squad in Week 3 against the New York Jets, but failed to carve out a regular spot in the rotation on any of the four kick coverage teams. Based on his usage on Tuesday, this could change in 2020.
Cam Newton’s health doesn’t look like a problem
Cam Newton’s talent as one of the most athletically gifted players in the NFL today cannot be denied. The same has to be said about his injury history: Newton has had multiple ailments over the course of his career as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback (2011-19), and had to end his final two seasons prematurely due to a shoulder and foot injury, respectively. His health, therefore, was a big question heading into his tenure with the Patriots.
At this point in training camp, however, his readiness to play should not be questioned. Newton looked good throwing the football on Monday and Tuesday, and did not show any obvious signs of being hampered by either his foot or shoulder. While he still needs to get more comfortable within the system compared to fellow quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, the 31-year-old is looking as good as ever from a physical perspective.
New England’s offensive line dominates
Blocking up front was an issue for the Patriots in 2019, but the unit looks poised to return to form this year. With Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason all entrenched in their respective starting roles, and with Jermaine Eluemunor the surprising leader in the race for the right tackle spot, the line has had some very good drills on Tuesday — including a goal-line sequence that saw impressive run blocks on back-to-back touchdowns. The unit led by new assistant coaches Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo is off to a good start.
The battle for surprise training camp standout is heating up
While the circumstances of this year’s training camp are different compared to the past, a lot of the storylines remain the same. One of them is looking for the surprise standouts — and it looks as if two players have separated themself from the pack so far: third-year wide receiver Devin Ross and undrafted rookie linebacker De’Jon Harris.
Ross arrived in New England last October, when the Patriots signed him to their practice squad after a three-month stint on the open market. While the 23-year-old entered camp firmly on the roster bubble, he has made some of the best plays so far: on both Monday and Tuesday, he caught deep passes from quarterback Brian Hoyer — beating cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and Jason McCourty in the process.
Harris, meanwhile, was signed by the Patriots earlier this offseason after going undrafted. So far, the Arkansas product appears to be the frontrunner to keep the team’s streak of rookie free agents making the opening day roster alive: not only is New England comparatively light at the off-the-ball linebacker position after an offseason marked by personnel turnover, the 22-year-old also had two strong days of practice to open the full-contact period of camp.
Devin McCourty shares his thoughts on New England’s Covid-19 response
On Monday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised the organization for its handling of the NFL’s Coronavirus protocols and the fact that New England is one of just five teams to not move a player to the newly created Reserve/Covid-19 list yet. On Tuesday, Devin McCourty also spoke about the pandemic and how the team approached it over the last few days and weeks.
“I don’t think it’s anything we’ve done special,” the defensive team captain said. “I do think people are working hard to abide by the guidelines and the different things set up. But I think it’s just making sure that we’re trying to do the things that we talk about: wearing masks, staying away from each other as much as possible, all of the different guidelines that are in place in the building, just trying to do those things.
“And then just guys being smart off the field. I think that’s something that we’ll have to continue to do. This isn’t something that if you do it well for a month or two months, it goes away. This is something that just hangs around,” McCourty continued.
Julian Edelman disappears
The Patriots’ most experienced wide receiver was present during the warmup period but immediately afterwards left the practice fields without returning. Edelman’s departure was a mystery given that he was an active participant during Monday’s session and did not seem to suffer any injury both during that practice and while warming up on Tuesday. Nevertheless, he was a no-show for most of the day.
While the reason for his absence is not yet known, Jeff Howe from The Athletic noted that “it doesn’t sound like it was a cause for concern.” The upcoming practice on Wednesday should create a clearer picture when it comes to the MVP of Super Bowl 53.