The New England Patriots opened their mandatory minicamp on Monday, returning to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium in rainy conditions. For the fourth time all offseason, members of the media were also again able to observe the action from a safe distance.
As will be the case all summer long, all eyes were on the quarterbacks. Not only did incumbent starting quarterback Cam Newton return after suffering a hand injury 10 days ago — he was back last Friday already but that session took place behind closed doors — the other three players at the position were also present: Newton was joined by first-round rookie Mac Jones as well as Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.
Newton was the first man up throughout practice and the previously injured throwing hand did not appear to be an issue, according to CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar. However, as Mike Giardi of NFL Network noted, he also was “more erratic than the other quarterbacks.”
That said, he still had some good moments such as this connection to Kendrick Bourne:
Cam Newton to Kendrick Bourne on air. Good ball. Good catch. pic.twitter.com/KzgswP6SeR— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) June 14, 2021
Still, if there was one quarterback that can be considered a “winner” it was Mac Jones. ESPN’s Mike Reiss thought that he “looked dialed in” and that his decisiveness and accuracy stood out despite the challenging conditions. Evan Lazar, meanwhile, called the session “the best Jones looked in team drills in four open practices.”
The first-round draft pick saw only limited opportunities during last Thursday’s open practice, but he was the second man up behind Newton on Monday. Jones actually attempted the same number of passes during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills and looked good with the ball in his hands:
The Patriots QB competition commences on day one of mandatory minicamp. Looking like Mac Jones had a slight edge over Cam Newton in terms of accuracy with the rain coming down. pic.twitter.com/m9sM73Menm— Patriots on NBCSB (@NBCSPatriots) June 14, 2021
Per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Jones went 13-for-20 compared to Newton’s 12-for-20. Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, saw fewer reps than they did last week:
11v11s— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) June 14, 2021
Cam Newton: 5/11
Mac Jones: 6/12
Jarrett Stidham: 6/9
Brian Hoyer: 2/6, INT
Cam Newton: 7/9
Mac Jones: 7/8
Jarrett Stidham: 2/6
Stidham went 8-for-15 and also had the “throw of the day” per Mike Giardi: he hit Nelson Agholor in the hands on a deep shot down the sideline, but the wide receiver dropped the ball. Hoyer went 2-for-6 with an interception caught by linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
As for the rest of the team, most players on the roster were present. That said, five of them were still not spotted (per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe):
LB Rashod Berry, DT Byron Cowart, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB Terez Hall, LB Chase Winovich
Three others were working out on the lower field, usually reserved for rehabbing players (per NBC Sports’ Phil Perry):
LB Anfernee Jennings, LB Cameron McGrone, WR Devin Smith
The other players on the current roster were present and participating fully.
Among them was former first-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who showed some promise according to Mike Reiss: “Harry showed up more today than prior practices in which reporters were present. One catch showed his physicality, snatching the ball with authority and essentially boxing out a defensive back who was attempting to break up the pass.”
Coming off back-to-back challenging seasons, Harry appears to be in a do-or-die situation. The Patriots have invested considerable resources to upgrade their passing game personnel, bringing in wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne as well as tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Harry, meanwhile, will have to fight for a spot in the rotation and subsequently on the roster.
Speaking of the two tight ends, they were on the same field together for the first time all offseason. While Henry participated in voluntary workouts, Smith joined the action on Monday. Both were “popular targets” during team drills, per Alex Barth of 98.5 The Sports Hub:
We got our first look at Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry on the same field. The two were popular targets for the quarterbacks during team drills. Henry was moving well after tweaking his ankle last week. pic.twitter.com/DZ5IhHVMZ5— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) June 14, 2021
While Henry seemed to have recovered well from an apparent ankle ailment suffered last Thursday, Smith was injured himself: the high-priced free agency addition, according to Mark Daniels, “appeared to suffer an injury to his left hamstring in the middle of practice” and was unable to finish the session. Before the injury, however, Evan Lazar noted his speed and explosiveness: “Moves extremely well.”
Smith was not the only new participant on Monday. In fact, he was one of 10 players not spotted during the last open session to either make his debut this offseason or return to the field:
WR Nelson Agholor, RB Brandon Bolden, K Nick Folk, DT Lawrence Guy, RB Sony Michel, QB Cam Newton, WR Devin Smith, TE Jonnu Smith, RB James White, OT Isaiah Wynn
Wynn in particular is a player worth talking about. The former first-round draft pick resumed his role as the team’s starting left tackle (per Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard) — an indication that New England plans to move forward with an offensive line consisting of Wynn as well as left guard Michael Onwenu, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Trent Brown.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jeff Howe saw the pass rush stand out.
Also notable, as mentioned by Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald, was Jalen Mills’ usage. With Stephon Gilmore absent, the free agency addition lined up as the number two cornerback opposite J.C. Jackson.
As for special teams, Jake Bailey again had some solid hang-times as charted by Alex Barth:
Jake Bailey hang times:— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) June 14, 2021
The Patriots will be back on the practice fields on Tuesday for their second of three mandatory minicamp sessions.
“It’s always good to be able to pull things together here at the end and try to prepare the team and the coaching staff for training camp and the start of the work that’s ahead in July and August prior to the start of the season,” head coach Bill Belichick said about minicamp ahead of Monday’s practice. “Just keep trying to stack some days together and see if we can get as far as we can until we break and then head to training camp.”