The New England Patriots may not have worn full pads during Wednesday’s training camp practice, and in turn did not show the same level of physicality they displayed during the last two sessions, but it was still another step towards building the 2020 roster. There also were some memorable moments and players (and at times whole units) catching the eye — not always for the right reasons, though.
With that said, 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: Wide receiver depth
The Patriots received some influx of talent on Wednesday as a total of six players returned after having missed at least yesterday’s practice. No position group felt this more than the wide receivers: Julian Edelman, Jeff Thomas and Devin Ross all returned. The three did not have a particularly noteworthy day — Edelman had two drops, Thomas was not targeted even once during team drills, Ross was limited — but the mere fact that they are out on the field again is a positive development for a group that needs every healthy body it can get.
Losers: QB Cam Newton & QB Brian Hoyer
As was already pointed out in the practice recap, Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer struggled at times on Wednesday and did not have their best performances. The two veterans combined to complete just over half their passes in team drills: Newton went a combined 10 of 18 with an interception, with Hoyer completing four of nine attempts. The two were inaccurate at times and simply failed to establish a consistent rhythm with the players around them. That all being said, the session itself is not necessarily a cause for concern — especially in regards to Newton. The ex-Panther looked promising over the last few practices, so one up-and-down day is not a negative reflection of his development within the system.
Winner: QB Jarrett Stidham
Stidham did not participate during 11-on-11 work as a passer — he did exclusively hand the football off to the running backs on his lone series — but he still appears to be trending in the right direction coming off a hip injury. The second-year man, who is unlikely to challenge Newton for the starting gig in camp, completed all six of his attempts during 7-on-7s and threw some pin-point passes to tight end Ryan Izzo and wide receiver N’Keal Harry. His accuracy is much improved compared to the end of last week, and so appears to be his confidence.
Loser: The punt return team
The Patriots’ special teams units are consistently among the best in the NFL year-in and year-out, and on Wednesday they received some valuable lessons in how not to do business: the punt return squad had to run two separate penalty laps during a sloppy period late in practice. The players as well as assistant coaches Cam Achord and Troy Brown were penalized by Bill Belichick for a late substitution, before an incorrect lineup led Achord to send his men on another trip round the field.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
After starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, Michel was back on the practice fields today for the first time all summer. While the non-contact setting of today’s session does not give a clear indication when it comes to his physical state three months after undergoing surgery on his foot, the simple fact that he was back on the field is good news for the Patriots’ offense. The former first-round draft pick, who split reps with camp standout Damien Harris, also looked good carrying the football and appeared to be rather fluid in his movements.
Winner: LB Josh Uche
The Patriots’ personnel turnover at the linebacker position is a challenge for the team but also an opportunity for some players to carve out significant roles. One who is very much on his way to take advantage is Josh Uche: the second-round rookie has been given regular looks in multiple roles — on the edge, off the line, downhill versus the run, as a pass rusher, in coverage — and is adapting well. He saw a lot of action dropping back on Thursday and while he was beaten for a touchdown when Cam Newton hooked up with Rex Burkhead, the coaching staff’s trust in him speaks for itself. Uche also broke up a pass when matched up one-on-one against...
Loser: TE Dalton Keene
With Devin Asiasi being limited after injuring what appeared to be his ankle on Tuesday, fellow rookie Dalton Keene saw increased action. The third-round pick does have some intriguing potential as a possible move option at the tight end position, but he did experience some growing pains today: Keene saw three passes thrown his way during team drills, with two of them eventually falling incomplete and another being picked off by safety Terrence Brooks. The 21-year-old has talent, but also a need to improve his chemistry with New England’s quarterbacks.