The majority of the New England Patriots’ roster is currently enjoying its summer break, which gives us a chance to reflect on what has happened over the last few weeks — i.e. the team’s offseason workout program. While the program itself is meant as a teaching tool, it also is a reflection of where players stand in their current development.
With that in mind, and based on the reports coming out of Foxborough during the six practices open to members of the media, we can therefore apply our popular “winners and losers” format to find out who caught the eye.
Winner: LB Dont’a Hightower
The team captain had opted out of the 2020 season, but he was back on the field on June 10th. Hightower made it obvious that he kept himself in shape during his year off: he looked leaner than in years past and resumed his role at the heart of the New England defense. The 31-year-old did not seem to have skipped a beat, which is encouraging news for a Patriots linebacker group coming off a challenging campaign.
Hightower, after all, has proven himself the most valuable member of the group. Not only is he its lead communicator, he also is as steady a player as they come and a positionally flexible presence in New England’s front seven — a unit that is unquestionable better with him in the fold.
Loser: LB Chase Winovich
While Winovich was the Patriots’ most disruptive pass rusher last season, he had a quiet offseason. While other linebacker such as Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Josh Uche regularly caught the eye, the third-year man was on-again/off-again before missing the entirety of mandatory minicamp. Winovich is expected back for training camp, but he will need to show up more consistently not to get lost in what is now a deep edge rotation.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
The biggest story of the Patriots’ offseason is the development of rookie Mac Jones, and it seems like the Patriots can feel good about their first-round investment so far. They put a lot on the youngster’s plate during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp but he appears to have handled himself well.
While it remains to be seen how he will look in training camp and preseason, Jones showed plenty of the skills that made him one of the top prospects in this year’s class to begin with: he was accurate, made quick decisions and is showing confidence within the provided structure. Currently on his way to become the number two on the depth chart, it will be fascinating to see if Jones can really push incumbent Cam Newton for the starting job.
Winner: DB Jalen Mills
Mills’ first offseason as a Patriot was a successful one, and he seems to be the team’s third perimeter cornerback at the moment. With Stephon Gilmore holding out in hopes of getting a new contract, New England inserted its free agency acquisition into the starting lineup: Mills saw considerable action opposite fellow starter J.C. Jackson, and was among the standouts during the second of three minicamp practices.
Winner: TE Hunter Henry
Even though he missed some reps with an apparent ankle injury and was not targeted during team drills on the final day of minicamp, Henry appears to have had a very good offseason workout period. The high-prized free agency addition looks as advertised, catching plenty of passes and showing some early chemistry with the quarterbacks.
Loser: LB Brandon King
After missing back-to-back seasons because of a lingering quad injury, King was present for offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp. That was a positive in itself, but the veteran special teamer was unable to participate fully during mandatory minicamp and instead focused on conditioning work alongside other rehabbing players such as rookie linebacker Cameron McGrone and wide receiver Devin Smith.
When healthy, King is a core member of New England’s kicking game units. However, he needs to get back onto the practice fields quickly in order to get a chance to keep the job he has held ever since 2015.
Loser: TE Dalton Keene
The second-year tight end was spotted with a compression sleeve on his left leg and was unable to consistently participate fully during OTAs and minicamp. He did see some action, but at this point in time appears to have some significant ground to make up in order to either challenge Devin Asiasi for the third tight end role behind Henry and Jonnu Smith or Jakob Johnson for the fullback gig.
Winner: LB Josh Uche
The Patriots have some realistic candidates for a second-year jump — including, among others, safety Kyle Dugger and offensive lineman Michael Onwenu — and Josh Uche appears to be right among that group. The former second-round draft pick was repeatedly showed up in simulated pass rush situations and finished mandatory minicamp with multiple would-be sacks.
With New England having struggled to turn pressure into positive plays last season, having Uche perform at a high level would be big for the defense.
Losers: OT Yodny Cajuste and OT Korey Cunningham
Before projected starters Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown joined the equation late during the workout program, the Patriots relied on their backup personnel to man the offensive tackle position. Properly evaluating them is impossible to do without full contact, but even so they still appeared to have their fair share of issues against the simulated pass rush (especially in the form of Josh Uche).
Winner: WR Devin Ross
Devin Ross participated during mandatory minicamp on a tryout basis and apparently performed well enough to earn a contract from the team. While he is near the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart, that fact alone qualifies him as a winner — and gives him an opportunity to fight for a roster or practice squad spot over the course of training camp.