The New England Patriots returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Tuesday to hold their second of three mandatory minicamp practices. The session, taking place in friendlier conditions after Monday’s heavy rainfall, was the fifth all offseason that saw members of the media observing it from a safe distance.
Unsurprisingly, the quarterback position in the spotlight once again. And for the second day in a row one passer stood out. First-round rookie Mac Jones was the most active member of the group and, according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, “the best QB on the field” as well.
“It’s still way too early to predict the outcome of the quarterback battle. Padded practices and preseason will be paramount. But the past week shows me Mac Jones absolutely has a chance to win the job later this summer,” he wrote.
Incumbent Cam Newton was still the first man up during drills, but Jones actually saw the most opportunities during team sessions. While Newton attempted 17 throws in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 settings, the rookie registered 25.
In total, as charted by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, the passers performed as follows:
11v11s— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) June 15, 2021
Cam Newton: 5/9
Mac Jones: 9/13, 2 INT
Jarrett Stidham: 3/5
Cam Newton: 4/8
Mac Jones: 8/12
Jarrett Stidham: 2/3
As can be seen, Jones was far from perfect with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy intercepting him late during team drills.
“Two of his final three passes in competitive 11-on-11s were picked (by Hightower and Van Noy) and he threw behind Zuber on a slant near the goal line. Also had a low throw to Nelson Agholor that the wideout make a nice grab on,” wrote NESN’s Zack Cox.
Still, Jones looked better than Newton (let alone Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer).
Newton, meanwhile, had what was described as a rocky day.
“After the first competitive 11-on-11 period, when Jones got seven reps and Newton got three, Newton walked slowly to the next drill, at times with his head down. Got there as the drill was underway. Spent a good deal of time standing by himself watching other QBs take reps,” noted Phil Perry of NBC Sports. “During Newton’s next chance behind center, he launched three passes deep. First almost picked by Jalen Mills. Second overthrown. Third overthrown and picked by Kyle Dugger. He then completed his next three attempts.”
Wrote ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss about the play: “Safety Kyle Dugger had a sideline interception in 7-on-7 drills, picking Cam Newton’s downfield throw to Kendrick Bourne. It was a fairly tight window and Bourne reached up for the ball, couldn’t corral it, and it essentially landed between the 2 and 3 on Dugger’s jersey.”
In general, the Patriots’ offense had some issues — NFL Network’s Mike Giardi mentioned lining up and pass protection — while the defense stood out. Chris Mason of MassLive noted the following about the unit’s success:
Patriots defense rules the day.— Chris Mason (@ByChrisMason) June 15, 2021
— INTs for Kyle Dugger (Newton), Dont’a Hightower (Jones) and Kyle Van Noy (Jones, tipped).
— Josh Uche remains a force off the edge and could have picked up three sacks in team drills.
— Jalen Mills got his hands on three passes. pic.twitter.com/bhmDkN25ha
Jalen Mills, who saw starter reps opposite J.C. Jackson with Stephon Gilmore continuing his holdout, was the most active defensive back on the field. Per Mark Daniels, he “should’ve intercepted Cam Newton, but dropped it. He also deflected a Mac Jones pass and another Newton pass for three PBUs.”
Speaking of Gilmore, he remained one of five players not spotted — a group that looks the same as it did on Monday:
LB Rashod Berry, DT Byron Cowart, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB Terez Hall, LB Chase Winovich
Furthermore, five players were either limited participants or not participating at all:
TE Dalton Keene, G Shaq Mason, LB Cameron McGrone, WR Devin Smith, TE Jonnu Smith
Jonnu Smith, one of the Patriots’ high-priced free agency additions, injured his ankle on Monday and was unable to finish practice. While he was present on the field — a positive sign — he did not partake in any drills. Shaq Mason, meanwhile, was replaced by Ted Karras in the lineup.
As for other injuries, one was apparently suffered by third-year wide receiver N’Keal Harry (via Jeff Howe): “Harry had been building momentum this week. And then on the final series of practice — a half speed two-minute drill — he grabbed his right calf after a catch and limped through the remaining plays. His status tomorrow will be monitored.”
Harry had struggled with injuries throughout his career, and Tuesday’s ailment could be another setback.
He and the rest of the team will get one more chance to get back onto the practice field before the summer break: the Patriots will hold their third and final minicamp session on Wednesday.