The New England Patriots held another full-pads practice today — their fifth overall since last Monday — with a heavy focus on situational football. The session in itself may not have had the same physical note as yesterday’s, but it still saw some standout performances beyond those that were essentially a continuation from last practice (Cam Newton looking solid, N’Keal Harry having a good day).
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: LB Derek Rivers
Derek Rivers was already mentioned as a “winner” in yesterday’s breakdown, but as a part of bigger group of impressive pass rushers. Today, he has earned a spot by himself: the fourth-year man again looked good and appears to be back at full strength in his third session after returning from a three-practice absence. Rivers notched two would-be sacks during team drills and also was among the standouts during 1-on-1 drills. If he can build on his momentum and stay on the field, the 26-year-old should very much factor into the mix along the defensive edge come the regular season.
Winner: WR Gunner Olszewski
Even though he did register another drop during team drills, Gunner Olszewski had a strong practice to further solidify his status as a player with very good chances of making the Patriots’ 53-man roster when all is said and done — not just based on his kick return abilities but his offensive play as well. Today, the second-year man was tied for the team lead in receptions by presumptive starting quarterback Cam Newton (three) and also had an impressive rep versus Jonathan Jones during 7-on-7 work.
Loser: K Justin Rohrwasser
When the Patriots drafted Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round this year, he was the team’s lone place kicker. The addition of veteran Nick Folk earlier this week, however, has changed the picture and forced the rookie to win a job. Based on his first two days of practices with Folk breathing down his neck, the chances do not look rosy — and Monday’s practice illustrated why: leg strength is not an issue, consistency very much is. Rohrwasser’s range per se is good but he just lacks the accuracy of Folk.
Winner: DE/TE Rashod Berry
Rashod Berry has experience playing on both offense and defense from his time at Ohio State, but the Patriots are using him primarily as an edge defender so far into his first NFL training camp. The undrafted rookie continues to be a developmental prospect at this stage in his career no matter where he lines up, but he had a good day on Monday: Berry registered two wins during 1-on-1 pass rushing drills and also notched a would-be sack in 11-on-11 work.
Winner: WR Damiere Byrd
No other wide receiver in Patriots camp has been the target of as many passes that wound up as interceptions as Damiere Byrd, but the free agency acquisition is repeatedly showing his athletic abilities nonetheless. Today, he had some good moments while going up against Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson and also caught three passes during team drills (one from Cam Newton, two from Jarrett Stidham). Byrd’s speed could present a problem for opposing defenses, New England just needs to find a way to get him involved beyond the intermediate areas of the field.
Winner: WR Isaiah Zuber
While he still needs to be categorized as a roster long-shot at this point in time, Isaiah Zuber has finally started to gain some traction. On Tuesday, the 23-year-old looked solid during 1-on-1 drills — he won three of his matchups — before adding two more receptions in team work. Zuber, who also has some value as a potential kickoff and punt returner, is the last man standing among the Patriots’ undrafted rookie wideouts and making some strides as a potential depth option as a slot/Z-receiver.
Losers: WR Devin Ross & WR Will Hastings
Devin Ross and Will Hastings do not land in this category based on their performance on Monday, but rather due to the fact that they had no chance to perform at all: the two were absent for the session. This is bad news for both considering that they are very much fighting for their roster lives. Ross was a camp standout last week, but he has cooled off a bit as of late and is now apparently also dealing with an injury. Hastings, meanwhile, was limited all of last week and has now missed his first practice. Both players cannot afford to fall behind, and yet they are doing just that.