The New England Patriots’ training camp practice on Monday was notable for various reasons — from a group of players returning after seemingly falling victim to false-positive Coronavirus tests, to Cam Newton further solidifying his position as the team’s starting quarterback, to the pass rush having an impressive day. The two-hour session was an eventful one, as can be seen, so let’s further clean out the notebook.
The offense and defense both bring intensity
After wearing only minimal protection during the last two practices on Friday and Sunday, the Patriots increased the physicality on Monday by putting on their full pads again. As a result, the competitive spirit also seemed to grow: both the offense and the defense were engaged in a regular back-and-forth. On the one side, you had quarterback Cam Newton hollering at the defense; on the other side, Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty were letting him know whenever the defense made a big play.
Newton’s fumble during 11-on-11 work, which was forced by linebacker Chase Winovich on a quarterback run, was as good example as any: the defense collectively went nuts, while a defeated Newton had to run a penalty lap. The stakes appeared to be high on Monday, and the intensity on both sides of the ball reflected it.
Even with N’Keal Harry’s standout day questions remain at wide receiver
Second-year wideout N’Keal Harry was the star of the show on Monday by catching a pair of touchdowns during red zone work and also looking good during 1-on-1s. While his performance was encouraging, especially after having missed three sessions last week and having a bad day during his return on Sunday, the Patriots’ wide receiver group as a whole still has many questions left to answer outside of veteran Julian Edelman.
Harry, for example, needs to show he can consistently produce results like yesterday’s. The other wideouts also need to prove their value on a play-to-play basis.
Take Gunner Olszewski, for example. The second-year man is one of the biggest surprises of camp so far by looking much improved from his rookie year in every aspect: route-running, physicality, chemistry with the quarterbacks, you name it. That said, he also has had his fair share of downs to go along with his ups. Olszewski is not consistently able to gain significant separation, and on Monday had to run a penalty lap after losing a fumble. He also struggled with drops last week.
The other receivers, meanwhile, also have their question marks. Mohamed Sanu is a master technician but inconsistent when it comes to getting open versus defensive backs. Damiere Byrd’s speed stands out as a potential X-receiver, but quarterbacks have thrown a combined six interceptions when targeting him. Jakobi Meyers has been developing steadily, but has been limited as of late. Devin Ross has cooled down a bit after a hot start to camp. Jeff Thomas, Isaiah Zuber and Will Hastings look like camp bodies at the moment.
Justin Rohrwasser goes from roster look to TBD
When the Patriots selected Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round of the draft this spring, he became the lone place kicker on the team’s roster. With no other competition being added, the rookie was a lock to make the team. This all changed on Monday, however, when New England officially signed veteran Nick Folk to compete against him.
While Rohrwasser could very well be the future at the position, Folk’s arrival puts him under significant pressure to perform. The veteran may not be an awe-inspiring presence, but he was steady over the course of his eight-game stint in New England last year and also appeared comfortable during his first practice back on Monday. If Rohrwasser cannot improve his consistency over the next two weeks, the Patriots might just opt to go with the seasoned free agency addition instead of their draft day investment.
The quest to keep the undrafted rookie streak alive
When undrafted rookie cornerback Randall Gay survived the Patriots’ roster cutdown day in 2004, he kicked off an impressive streak that still is active to this day. Over each of the last 16 seasons, at least one rookie free agent was able to make New England’s opening day team. The streak may be in danger due to the cancelation of preseason, but three members of this year’s UDFA class are fighting nail and tooth to keep it alive for another year: running back J.J. Taylor, linebacker De’Jon Harris and defensive back Myles Bryant.
All three have made some solid plays over the course of camp so far, with Bryant standing out on Monday. The Washington product, who has experience playing both safety and cornerback, registered an interception versus Cam Newton for his third pick of the last week. He is still through the usual rookie growing pains at times, but the 22-year-old is making a strong case to be kept around in some capacity.
An update on Stephon Gilmore’s absence
The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year has missed four straight practices, but the reason for his absence is apparently not injury-related — something head coach Bill Belichick also alluded to on Sunday. Appearing on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni and Fauria show, Belichick said that Gilmore would be “excused” from appearing in practice. As for his return, the Patriots’ coach said that “there are some protocols we have to deal with. When he’s able to come back, he’ll be back.”