The New England Patriots returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium yesterday for their 13th overall practice since moving to the full-team portion of training camp earlier this month. The session was held in shells and therefore not as physically taxing as others — you can read a recap here and also take a look at the standout performers — but still had some moments and developments worth discussing.
With that said, let’s clean out the notebook from Wednesday.
N’Keal Harry’s health comes into focus again...
Coming off two encouraging practices, second-year wide receiver N’Keal Harry had a more quiet session on Wednesday. He did make two catches during team drills — a back-shoulder reception from Jarrett Stidham and a slant from Brian Hoyer — but also saw Justin Bethel break up a pass intended for him. His most noteworthy moment of the day, however, may have come when he briefly went to the sideline to have his right thigh area taped up. Harry already missed three practices last week, presumably because of a hamstring issue.
This is not the first time his health has come into focus. The former first-round draft pick missed a considerable portion of his rookie campaign after suffering an ankle injury three snaps into his preseason debut. The issue eventually forced Harry to sit out the remainder of the exhibition schedule and to open his first regular season in the NFL on temporary injured reserve — missing some valuable time in the process before eventually returning to the field and appearing in eight games for New England.
Heading into his second year in the system, staying healthy will be paramount for the 22-year-old to make the Year Two jump and develop into the player the Patriots drafted him to be.
...as does his nickname ‘Doughboy’
Despite not standing out on the field like he did the previous two days, Harry still made the headlines on Wednesday after slip-up by quarterback Cam Newton: during his conference call with the media — one that was attended by more than 70 reporters — Newton called Harry “Doughboy” before immediately correcting himself. Dropping the nickname, however, still led to a follow-up question by NBC Sports’ Phil Perry.
“It comes from the character ‘Pillsbury Doughboy.’ That is a specific brand that’s used for caking, and the rest is history. So instead of calling him ‘Pillsbury Doughboy,’ I just cut it off at ‘Doughboy,’” said Newton. When asked about whether or not the name has to do with any softness in relation to the wide receiver, he was clear as day: “Absolutely not.”
“It’s more or less about him and his off-the-field prowess rather than on the field. None of my nicknames ever come from on the field, by the way.”
Adrian Phillips has some catching up to do
Offseason acquisition Adrian Phillips has had a slow start to training camp so far. He missed four of the last five practices and was limited in the fifth before returning as a full participant on Wednesday. While getting back without any obvious limitations is a step in the right direction, Phillips still has some catching up to do when compared to fellow safeties Terrence Brooks and Kyle Dugger: whereas Brooks and Dugger have had solid camps so far, the free agency signee was quiet even when actually on the field.
Phillips’ versatility and athletic skillset are intriguing, and the Patriots do have to fill Patrick Chung’s old “star” role as a safety/linebacker hybrid, but until he puts it all together on the field, the 28-year-old essentially remains a project. At this point in time, Brooks, Dugger and second-year defensive back Joejuan Williams therefore all appear to have the inside track when it comes to filling the second safety role alongside Devin McCourty.
Drops are starting to add up for the pass catchers
After sitting out Tuesday’s practice, Julian Edelman was back in the lineup. He did not have a particularly noteworthy day, however. While he caught a third down throw from Cam Newton during the final 11-on-11 period, the MVP of Super Bowl 53 also dropped a pair of passes — both of which coming from Newton as well. Edelman’s drops were the only two during team drills on the day, but passes hitting the ground are still starting to add up.
Going back to last Monday, a total of 18 passes were dropped during team drills alone (not counting additional drops during individual drills, 1-on-1s or 2-on-2s). Edelman and rookie running back J.J. Taylor lead the team with three apiece, followed by James White and Devin Ross, who both let two passes slip through their fingers.
Drops will always be a part of the game — unless you are 2019 Phillip Dorsett — but some players such as Edelman and White have more wiggle room when it comes to them than others like Taylor and Ross. Dependability is as important as anything in New England, after all, especially when it comes to players who have yet to prove themselves within the system.
Bill Belichick talks about the kicker competition
Even though they did not attempt any live field goal attempts on Wednesday, rookie Justin Rohrwasser and veteran Nick Folk are still very much engaged in a position battle after the latter was signed as a free agent earlier this week. Based on two practices against each other, Rohrwasser has the advantage in leg strength, but Folk is more consistent.
Head coach Bill Belichick also touched on the kicking competition during his media conference call yesterday.
“I think both players are good kickers. We’ll see how it goes. That will be up to them to decide,” he said. “Those two guys will both get as much opportunity as we can give them, and we’ll evaluate them and go from there.”
Belichick also spoke about the process of re-signing Folk, who appeared in eight games for the Patriots last year as the third and final injury replacement for Stephen Gostkowski.
“We’ve talked to Nick throughout the course of the spring and even training camp. Things worked out here last week, and so it’s great to have him. He certainly came in and did a good job for us last year, but things just didn’t work out until recently with Nick, and so I’m glad they did. I’m glad he’s here and we’ll see how it turns out,” said New England’s head coach. “We’ve been talking to Nick since back in March, so I mean, this isn’t something that just came up a couple days ago. It’s been an ongoing conversation for several months, actually.”
Folk made 16 of 19 field goal attempts for the Patriots last season (84.2%) and also was successful on all 13 of his extra point tries.