Following their off-day on Saturday — one that saw the team still be quite active — the New England Patriots returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Sunday for what was their 10th full-team practice of this year’s training camp. The session was not held in full pads and therefore on a lower physicality level, but it still produced some noteworthy moments as well players standing out for one reason or another.
As always, of course, the division into “winners” and “losers” should be taken with a grain of salt: practice is just that — a method to improve and get up to speed. Nevertheless, some players did stand out more than others according to reports by those in attendance for the session.
Winner: CB Justin Bethel
When the Patriots signed Justin Bethel during 2019’s regular season, they teamed him up with Matthew Slater to form arguably the best gunner duo in the NFL. His defensive contributions, on the other hand, were quite limited. Heading into his first full year in New England, however, Bethel has made some solid plays at his listed position of cornerback — with Sunday being arguably his best day of practice: Bethel had the lone interception of the day when he picked off Brian Hoyer during 11-on-11s, and also registered a pass breakup.
Winner: DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
The Patriots moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4-based defense last summer, and Deatrich Wise Jr’s role and playing time changed as well as a result. It seems as if he has better adapted to it in 2020, with Sunday’s practice being one of his best ever since arriving in New England three years ago: Wise Jr. was nearly unblockable during a two-minute drill near the end of practice, registering three straight quarterback disruptions, including back-to-back sacks.
Loser: WR N’Keal Harry
While it was good to see N’Keal Harry back on the practice fields after a three-session absence earlier during the week, the second-year wide receiver had a hard time in his return. He caught as many passes during team drills as he had drops (one each) and was unable to generate consistent separation. To make matters worse, the former first-round draft pick also looked physically exhausted near the end of the session and had to be looked at by a trainer.
Winner: The Cam Newton-Julian Edelman connection
With Cam Newton now clearly established as the frontrunner to earn the starting quarterback job, his chemistry with the Patriots’ top pass catchers comes into focus. On Sunday, the most experienced of those had a strong session connecting with the former league MVP: Julian Edelman caught a team-high seven passes during team drills, and also worked on some details during a side-session. The Newton-Edelman connection will be critical this year, so this was a positive development to see.
Loser: K Justin Rohrwasser
For the first time since Monday, and after dealing with what appeared to be an injury late during the week, Justin Rohrwasser was back kicking live field goals. His return was not a highlight, though: the fifth-round rookie made two of four attempts during team drills — albeit against narrower goal posts — and also had some errant attempts working on the side earlier during the session. Given Rohrwasser’s recently miscues, the team’s reported decision to re-sign veteran Nick Folk should not come as a surprise.
Loser: TE Devin Asiasi
Third-round draft pick Devin Asiasi is the team’s best tight end one week into the full-speed portion of training camp, but that does not mean he is immune to some rookie growing pains. Sunday served as a good reminder of that: the UCLA product had to run two penalty laps after losing a fumble and later dropping an easy pass. Asiasi is still very much on his way to earn the TE1 role, but he still needs to work on his consistency.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
Damien Harris continues to be a standout for the Patriots with fellow running backs Sony Michel and Lamar Miller on the physically unable to perform list. With two more backs absent on Sunday — James White and J.J. Taylor — the second-year man took on an even bigger workload and again performed very well: he looked strong as a between-the-tackles runner, caught four passes from Cam Newton, and also proved himself serviceable picking up the blitz. Harris’ impressive training camp continues.