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Sunday Patriots Notes: Rookie minicamp is an intimate affair in New England this year

Related: Mac Jones leads Patriots rookie class into its first minicamp

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New England Patriots Practice Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The offseason appears to be in full swing but there still is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.

1. An intimate rookie minicamp for the Patriots. Over the weekend, New England’s 2021 rookie class was invited to get its first taste of NFL life by participating in a rookie minicamp. First-year players went through a series of on-field drills as well as physical examinations, and introductions into the Patriots’ scheme and daily routine.

The three-day event was a return to normalcy after the Coronavirus pandemic forced the Patriots to cancel it last year. It still looked different compared to years past, though. Not only are the league’s Covid-19 guidelines still dictating how workouts and teaching sessions can be conducted, New England also had a smaller group of players present.

The team’s eight drafted rookies were joined by only one undrafted free agent (the club also had the opportunity to invite up to five players on a tryout basis but it brought just one in, according to the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels). For comparison, the Patriots’ rookie minicamp featured 21 and 19 players in 2019 and 2018, respectively. This means that a lot more hands-on coaching was possible, making the 2021 version of rookie minicamp a much more intimate affair.

Also contributing to this was the fact that the media was barred from attending. That did not come as a surprise, though: the Patriots are known for trying to keep their rookies focused on the task at hand, and the distractions such as interview sessions at a minimum.

Nonetheless, the in-house media was allowed to shoot some pictures:

2. A league perspective on Mac Jones. Even though the Patriots had multiple players on the field over the weekend, one player naturally stood out: quarterback Mac Jones, who was drafted 15th overall last month. Fairly or not, the success of New England’s draft class will be measured by Jones’ ability to develop into a viable franchise quarterback.

It remains to be seen whether or not he will succeed, but there appears to be some optimism when reading recent quotes attributed to NFL personnel.

“He processes so well that it will make his lack of athleticism a small issue. And they’ll also be able to run the ‘O’ the way Josh [McDaniels] wants it run, especially with the two tight ends they added. Don’t know if Mac was their guy but it works,” one AFC East coach told NFL Network’s Mike Giardi.

“You put the guys around him, let him distribute, yes, Mac Jones can be good, because he was really accurate. He probably didn’t get enough credit for how he threw the ball, how accurate he was. He put it on those guys where they could run after the catch. There was no adjusting to the ball or anything like that. The guy was super accurate and rarely made a bad decision. If last year is any indication, Cam is on the downward slant. I think they’ll pile it on Mac Jones, and he is going to be able to handle it,” one executive told Mike Sando of The Athletic.

But while Jones is coming off an impressive season and joining a team that upgraded its skill position personnel during the offseason, there is no guarantee he will become New England’s starter on opening day or at any point this season. Incumbent Cam Newton was re-signed in free agency, after all, and appears to have the inside track based on his experience in the league and New England’s system.

One talent evaluator told Sando before this week’s schedule release that he does not see Jones get onto the field as QB1 anytime soon.

“I don’t think Mac Jones sees the field for a while. ... Is he starting by November? No, he’s not. Because Cam wasn’t bad early in the year and they really should have won more of those games, and he just wasn’t the same after getting Covid. I think Cam is going to be entrenched there for a little bit.”

3. Mac Jones and Bill Parcells’ quarterback rules. Bill Parcells led the Patriots between 1993 and 1997, and was a long-time mentor of their current head coach, Bill Belichick. The Hall of Famer also was an able evaluator of talent who formulated seven rules for drafting quarterbacks. While a lot has happened since Parcells last coached in the league, and may or may not have applied those rules, looking at the Mac Jones selection through this lens is still a fun exercise.

So, how did New England’s first-rounder fare? Let’s find out:

  • Be a three-year starter: No
  • Be a senior in college: Yes
  • Graduate from college: Yes
  • Start 30 games: No
  • Win 23 games: No
  • Post a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio: Yes
  • Complete at least 60 percent of passes: Yes

As can be seen, Jones checks four of the seven boxes and he likely would have been able to tick all seven had he gotten his shot earlier at the University of Alabama. However, he was sitting behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa before taking over late during the 2019 season. As a result, he finished 4-of-7 when it comes to the Parcells criteria, which tied him for third among the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

According to Joe Marino of The Draft Network, only Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (6-of-7) and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond (6-of-7) fared better. Lawrence was drafted first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Mond went to the Minnesota Vikings in the third round.

4. New England and the draft pick signing progress. As of Sunday, the Patriots have been able to sign half of their rookie class. Linebacker Cameron McGrone, safety Joshuah Bledsoe, offensive tackle William Sherman and wide receiver Tre Nixon have all agreed to standard four-year deals, while Mac Jones as well as defensive tackle Christian Barmore, edge linebacker Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson remain unsigned.

With four of eight players signed, New England is slightly better than the league average as cap guru Miguel Benzan pointed out on Twitter:

The Patriots are on a good pace to sign their draft class, but they are still slower than last year — or so it seems. They did sign all of their 10 selections by May 15 last year, but the draft also took place one week earlier than it did in 2021. In order for them to match the 2020 signing pace, they will have to get Jones, Barmore, Perkins and Stevenson under contract by Friday.

5. Who is the most underrated player on the Patriots? A case can be made that the Patriots as a whole are flying under the radar coming off a 7-9 season. When it comes to naming one player in particular to fall into this category, however, offensive lineman Michael Onwenu is the choice — at least according Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson.

Monson picked Onwenu as part of a story titled The most underrated player on all 32 NFL teams:

New England Patriots: G Michael Onwenu

Listed as a guard, even though most of his play in his rookie year came at right tackle, Onwenu was a phenomenal first-year performer for the Patriots regardless of position. In a world where the league appreciated offensive line play as much as the play from “skill positions,” Onwenu would have had a strong case for rookie of the year after allowing just 11 total pressures all season.

Onwenu certainly is a solid choice simply because of the undervalued position he plays and how well he performed as a rookie last year. That said, arguments can also be made for other integral players — from center David Andrews, to defensive linemen Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr, to slot cornerback Jonathan Jones, to special teamer Justin Bethel.

Another candidate? Quarterback Cam Newton. While his statistics were bad in 2020 and the Patriots did draft his likely successor, his contributions to the team as a whole cannot be understated: Newton established himself as a locker room leader in Year 1 after Tom Brady, and will play an important role as a mentor for Mac Jones this year as well. One could therefore claim that he too is worthy of “most underrated player on the Patriots” recognition.

6. Get vaccinated with the Lombardi Trophy. Earlier this week, Gillette Stadium announced that more than 550,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have already been administered at the site so far. With walk-in vaccinations also possible, getting the Coronavirus shot is now easier than ever before. And not just that: it also can be turned into a memorable experience.

From noon to 6 pm on Monday, May 17, people can get a picture with one of the Patriots’ six Super Bowl trophies when getting vaccinated. Any of these six sites will display one of the trophies during that time:

  • Gillette Stadium, Foxborough (Moderna)
  • Hynes Convention Center, Boston (Pfizer)
  • Reggie Lewis Center, Roxbury (Pfizer)
  • Eastfield Mall, Springfield (Pfizer)
  • DoubleTree Hotel, Danvers (Pfizer)
  • Former Circuit City, Dartmouth (Pfizer)

If you’re planning to get vaccinated this week, visiting one of these sites might be a good plan.