The New England Patriots were back on the practice fields on Thursday to hold the ninth and second-to-last of their voluntary organized team activities. As was the case for practices No. 3 and No. 6, select members of the media were also allowed to watch the session from a safe distance.
As will remain the case throughout the offseason, all eyes were on the quarterback position once more. The group did look a bit different as opposed to last Friday’s open practice, though: incumbent starter Cam Newton was out due to a hand injury he suffered last week, leaving Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and first-round rookie Mac Jones as the QBs present.
Stidham led the rotation in light of Newton’s absence while Hoyer and Jones came in second and third, respectively:
With Cam Newton (hand) not participating in Thursday's #Patriots OTA session, it was Jarrett Stidham who was leading off drills for the QBs.— Nick Coit (@NCoitABC6) June 10, 2021
Brian Hoyer had a good practice Thursday, throwing a couple long passes, one in particular to Isaiah Zuber. @ABC6 pic.twitter.com/OPV8qjs9x4
According to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Alex Barth, Brian Hoyer was “the star of the group” during the session: “While Stidham and Jones focused on underneath routes, he regularly threw deep, hitting on a number of downfield shots in team drills.”
Hoyer also had a nice connection with Isaiah Zuber during 7-on-7s on what ESPN’s Mike Reiss dubbed “another make-you-take-notice catch” for the second-year wide receiver.
Looking good in practice is nothing new for Hoyer. He did the same during last summer’s training camp and was particularly effective on deep attempts. Obviously, though, he was unable to build on his success during the regular season — leading to him sliding down to the third spot on the depth chart. If anything, his performance on Thursday is a reminder that OTAs are more about teaching than anything else.
That being said, performance can still be charted and the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels did just that:
11v11:— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) June 10, 2021
Jones, who saw top-level reps during the first two practices open to the media, had a more quiet day. He attempted only eight total throws in team drills, and by all accounts was more conservative with the football than Stidham and Hoyer.
This is no cause for concern, however. Jones is still a rookie, after all, and should not be expected to process as quickly as the more experienced players. Thursday’s OTA was just the ninth of his young career, and he naturally has plenty of ground to make up compared to the veterans around him.
As for the other players on the roster, New England had the vast majority present. A total of 12 players were not spotted, according to NESN’s Zack Cox:
WR Nelson Agholor, LB Rashod Berry, RB Brandon Bolden, DT Byron Cowart, K Nick Folk, CB Stephon Gilmore, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Terez Hall, RB Sony Michel, QB Cam Newton, WR Devin Smith, TE Jonnu Smith, RB James White, OT Isaiah Wynn
Of those 12, five were previously spotted at one point during OTAs: Agholor, Berry, Cowart, Hall, Newton.
On top of that, two players were present but did not participate:
LB Anfernee Jennings, LB Cameron McGrone
Meanwhile, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback J.C. Jackson supposedly made their debuts. They were not present during last Friday’s practice and also were not spotted on any of the photos shared by the team of Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices.
Per NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, Hightower “jumped right back in with the ones” and looked as if “he’s slimmed down” during his one-year absence after opting out of the 2020 season.
Among the other players present, three stood out — albeit for different reasons.
Punter Jake Bailey showed off his big leg, with Alex Barth clocking his hang times:
Jake Bailey hang times:— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) June 10, 2021
Meanwhile, Josh Uche also made the most out of his opportunities. While the second-year linebacker did not have to go against full-speed blocking attempts, NBC Sports’ Tom E. Curran noted that “somebody must have told Josh Uche to run as fast as he can every single rep regardless of the level of competitiveness. Even on half-speed reps, he was flying off corner and buzzing the QB tower.”
While Bailey and Uche stood out for their positive contributions in an otherwise low-speed setting, tight end Hunter Henry made headlines for a less positive reason.
“Hunter Henry appeared to injure his left leg during 7-on-7 drills,” noted Patriot Wire’s Henry McKenna. “He seemed to tangle up legs with safety Adrian Colbert. Henry worked with a trainer but didn’t go back into drills. He watched the rest of practice from the sideline.”
The Patriots will be back on the practice fields on Friday for what will be their final OTA of the spring. Reporters will not be allowed in, meaning that Henry’s status and that of other absentees will remain in question until mandatory minicamp gets kicked off on June 14.