The New England Patriots held arguably their most intense practice of this year’s training camp on Thursday: with temperatures in the low 60s and rain falling for parts of the session, the team held a two-hour workout that included some considerable 11-on-11 action in the form of a de facto scrimmage. There were, of course, plenty of memorable moments and players catching the eye.
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: S Terrence Brooks
With Devin McCourty missing his second straight practice, Terrence Brooks was the top safety on the field for the Patriots on Thursday. And just like the previous day, he was a difference maker for the unit: Brooks intercepted a pass from quarterback Cam Newton, and later also registered a pass breakup on a throw intended for running back James White. The 28-year-old continues to be on his way to take over Patrick Chung’s former role as New England’s number one box safety.
Winners: RB Damien Harris & RB Rex Burkhead
The Patriots’ running backs as a whole had a solid performance on Thursday, but Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead stood out. Harris continues to have a terrific camp and also appears to be unfazed by fellow early-down back Sony Michel being activated off the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday: he had the biggest offensive play of the day when he ran for a 65-yard touchdown on the opening play of 11-on-11s. Burkhead, meanwhile, continues to show his all-around skillset by leading the team with six receptions today and also looking good as a pass protector.
Loser: WR N’Keal Harry
N’Keal Harry started the week hot but has since cooled off quite a bit. On Thursday, he was targeted four times during team drills — twice by Cam Newton, twice by Jarrett Stidham — but failed to make a single reception. While one of the incompletions was batted at the line and another was a low-percentage pass, the 6-foot-2 receiver also failed to box out 5-foot-8 D’Angelo Ross for a catch and showed a lack of spatial awareness when he stepped out of bounds before what would otherwise have been a touchdown reception. Harry also lost against Joejuan Williams during 1-on-1s.
Winner: DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
You may have seen his name before in the “winners” category this summer, but Deatrich Wise Jr. just continues to make plays from his tackle/end position. On Thursday, the fourth-year man registered a pair of sacks and also was responsible for the batted pass intended for N’Keal Harry mentioned above. Wise Jr. is entering a contract season, and based on his last two weeks of practice is trying to make it his best campaign to date.
Losers: QB Cam Newton, QB Jarrett Stidham & QB Brian Hoyer
For the second day in a row, the Patriots’ quarterback position did not convince: Cam Newton completed just 13 of 28 combined attempts during team drills while also throwing an interception; Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer both went 6-of-13. Statistics aside, the three passers also had some errant throws and failed to get into a consistent rhythm yet again versus New England’s defense. While practice is a means to an end, the early-week momentum especially displayed by Newton was not sustained.
Winner: CB Joejuan Williams
Joejuan Williams’ name did not come up a lot so far in camp: he was pretty serviceable and did not appear on either end of the Ty Law/Ras-I Dowling Scale of Cornerback Play™. He did also not make a name for himself in a deep secondary, though. On Thursday, however, the second-year man had his best practice of camp so far. Williams beat N’Keal Harry during 1-on-1 work and later also was able to break up a potential touchdown pass intended for Rex Burkhead. It was a step in the right direction.
Winner: CB D’Angelo Ross
Much like Joejuan Williams, D’Angelo Ross also had a relatively uneventful training camp so far. He did miss one session last week, and also did not move the needle in any one direction. On Thursday, however, he was among the most active members of a secondary that had another impressive day in coverage: Ross not only broke up the aforementioned N’Keal Harry despite his height disadvantage, he also prevented a potential deep touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd by sticking with the speedster in man coverage.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
In case you have been living under a proverbial rock lately, Stephon Gilmore is outstanding and today was another reminder of that. Jeff Thomas and Julian Edelman caught passes with him as the nearest defender in team work, yes, but he made shutting down Edelman and Mohamed Sanu in 1-on-1s look easy while breaking up both passes thrown his way. Gilmore missed four practices to attend a personal matter, but he has not skipped a beat.