For the first time since last Thursday, and fourth overall, the New England Patriots put on their full pads today: the team held a two-hour session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, working in hot conditions that may or may not have contributed to the session being arguably the most intense of the last week-plus. With that said, let’s take a look at those who caught the eye for better or worse.
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: WR N’Keal Harry
Coming off a three-practice absence that was followed by a disappointing return on Sunday, N’Keal Harry had a strong outing durning Monday’s session. In fact, the former first-round draft pick was the Patriots’ most impressive offensive skill position player: he caught a pair of touchdown passes versus starting cornerback J.C. Jackson during red area work — one on a back-shoulder fade, the other on a slant — looked good in 1-on-1s, and also proved his physicality as a blocker on running plays. Harry needs to build on this performance, but it was another reminder that he can be a difference-maker for the team if healthy and used according to his strengths.
Winners: LB Chase Winovich, LB Josh Uche & LB Derek Rivers
The Patriots’ pass rush was ferocious on Monday, with three players in particular standing out: outside linebackers Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Derek Rivers. Winovich registered a sack on a 3rd-and-goal play and later forced a fumble — both versus Cam Newton. Uche appears to be progressing nicely by not just registering a pair of sacks but also looking much more comfortable going through his reads when used off the ball. Rivers, meanwhile, was back on the field for a second straight day and generating some solid pressure around the edge. Winovich and Uche are of course locks to make the roster, but Rivers could very well join them if he can consistently play like he did today and also stay healthy.
Winner: CB Michael Jackson Sr.
The Patriots already had the best cornerback depth chart in the league when they acquired Michael Jackson via trade from the Detroit Lions, but it is apparent that the team is seeing something in him. Monday’s practice showed this once again. The 23-year-old was feisty in one-on-one coverage, and was physical when being matched up with both Julian Edelman and Damiere Byrd. During team drills he also added a pass breakup. When given a chance, Jackson has looked solid so far in camp.
Losers: LB Terez Hall & LB Cassh Maluia
New England’s linebacker depth suffered not one but two blows on Monday, even though their severity is not yet known. First, Terez Hall had to leave practice with what appeared to be an ankle or lower leg injury: he walked off the field rather gingerly about 45 minutes in. A short time later, Cassh Maluia went down after a hard block from fellow rookie Dalton Keene. Maluia appeared to hurt his shoulder and was unable to finish practice as well. While the injury itself did not appear to be a major one, any rep or practice missed because of injury is a lost opportunity to position oneself in the race for roster spots — something that is true for both Maluia and Hall.
Winner: DT Xavier Williams
Appearing in his first practice since being signed to a free agency contract on Saturday, sixth-year man Xavier Williams had a solid practice and dominated bottom-of-the-roster center Tyler Gauthier: Williams had a pair of sacks versus Brian Hoyer by easily moving past the second-year offensive lineman. It was just one practice, and his action came against backups, but the 28-year-old was still off to a solid start — you can’t ask for much from a player who had arrived just a few days earlier.