The New England Patriots returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium yesterday for their 14th overall practice since moving to the full-team portion of training camp earlier this month. The session was held in full pads and resembled an 11-on-11 scrimmage at times both in terms of setting and intensity — you can read a recap here and also take a look at the standout performers.
With that said, let’s clean out the notebook from Thursday.
About the quarterback’s struggles
The Patriots’ quarterback position — Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, Brian Lewerke — did not have a particularly encouraging performance during Thursday’s practice, so the question that follow is naturally whether or not this will be the new normal for the team in the post-Tom Brady era. When dissecting the performance and statistics, however, one thing always has to be kept in mind: the team as it stands right now is not the one that will take the field for September’s regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Be it in terms of players building a better rapport or chemistry with each other, or the scheme aspect being added to the equation, practice is — and this has been stated numerous times around these parts — a means to an end: getting better as a unit, and as a team. Every practice is therefore an opportunity to do just that for an offense and a quarterback room in particular that has not had its best outings two straight days and is still trying to build its chemistry.
So, should you worry about the defense dominating the offense on Thursday? When looking simply at the stat sheet without proper contextualization, it looks that way. The Patriots do not function like that, however, which is something fans and analysts alike have to keep in mind at all times when reading practice reports about individual and group performances. The process is an ongoing one, and the final results will not be revealed until well into the season.
Terrence Brooks is turning into a playmaker for the defense
Even with Patrick Chung missing the season, the New England’s defensive backfield is arguably the deepest in football. Terrence Brooks’ emergence is further proof of that: the 28-year-old, who is entering his second season with the Patriots, has had some outstanding practices as of late — he notched interceptions against Cam Newton on both Wednesday and Thursday — and is setting himself apart in the race for the vacant safety spot(s) alongside veteran Devin McCourty.
Brooks played a comparatively small role last season, and served as the number four safety behind McCourty, Chung and Duron Harmon. With the latter two now gone, however, he has firmly established himself as a veteran presence and playmaker within the secondary. If he can keep this pace up, it would not be surprising to see him as the number two at the position come the regular season ahead of second-round rookie Kyle Dugger and free agency acquisition Adrian Phillips.
Jarrett Stidham is just ‘happy to be back’
The Patriots’ quarterback competition started as a head-to-head-to-head race between Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer (at least in terms of practice reps), but two weeks in appears to be decided in Newton’s favor. One of the deciding factors seems to have been Stidham suffering a hip injury that forced him to be limited almost an entire week — time in which the second-year man lost significant opportunities.
On Thursday, he spoke with the media for the first time since the hip issue came up, but wouldn’t go into any details.
“I don’t want to get too much into it, but I’m very fortunate to have a great medical team here, a great training staff, everyone who’s involved,” said the 24-year-old when asked about the status of his hip and his thoughts on the injury. “I’m just happy to be back on the field with everybody and playing with everybody again.”
Of the 10 questions asked on Thursday, four were some variation of “Tell us about that injury....” and the former fourth-round draft pick would naturally not engage in any meaningful way.
“There’s things that happen, and sometimes you can’t control everything,” Stidham said. “But now I’m back on the field and excited to be back playing with the guys. I just want to take the most from the opportunities that I do have, and try to make the most of them, and trying to get better everyday.”
2017’s draft class finally seems to have turned the corner
Full disclosure: Deatrich Wise Jr. was a serviceable role player for the Patriots in each of the last three seasons, while Derek Rivers simply failed to consistently stay healthy enough to contribute. With that out of the way, it is hard to feel encouraged by both players’ development this training camp as the last remaining members of the 2017 draft class.
Wise Jr. said that he added some extra weight to his frame this offseason — he is listed at 275 pounds but noted that he would be in the 280s now — and has been a force up front for New England’s defense as a pass rusher. He has 13.5 career sacks on his résumé so far, and almost reached that number through two weeks worth of practices alone. Performing in a game is of course different than performing in a controlled environment such as camp, but Wise Jr. is doing a mighty fine job to prepare for the final year of his rookie deal.
Rivers, meanwhile, appears to be back at full strength and building on what was a promising 2019 summer before a knee injury cost him the remainder of the season. Injuries, as noted above, have always been an issue for him. When healthy, though, he has the length, power and apparently now also the technique to become a solid presence on the defensive edge. The part about controlled environments has to be said about him as well, but for a player whose first three years in the league were a disappointment, this summer is a big step in the right direction.
Patriots’ PR team creates a forum for the team leaders
Heading into Thursday, seven Patriots were scheduled to speak to the media. That plan was changed, however, in light of the ongoing social protests across the country and the sports world: veteran team leaders Devin and Jason McCourty as well as James White were given a forum to share their thoughts on a variety of issues.
All three men went in-depth in their statements, with the following quote by Devin McCourty standing out in particular:
“As those things keep happening, it gets worse and then you become numb to it and then it just becomes the norm. That is one of my biggest fears is that someday this continues to just happen and people get tired from yelling from balconies or going and making statements or trying to help and they just become numb to it and it just becomes normalized.”