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Patriots training camp notebook: Cam Newton leads the quarterback drills on Day 1

Related: Three things to watch on the first day of Patriots training camp

The New England Patriots completed their first team practice of this summer on Wednesday. As Bill Belichick stated in his pre-training camp press conference, his club is still in a “learning period” and was therefore in shells and helmets and should be for at least the first few days of camp.

In terms of the atmosphere, despite the light rain for most of practice, the players were flying around and you could certainly feel the intensity as they completed their first practice in front of fans for the first time in a year and a half.

The team mainly did positional work with 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s sprinkled in towards the back half of practice. It was all low red zone work with limited contact. However, the defense dominated in those situations, and both Cam Newton and Mac Jones had up-and-down days to kick off training camp.

Attendance

Absentees: CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP), DT Bryon Cowart (PUP), QB Jarrett Stidham (PUP), LB Chase Winovich (PUP), TE Dalton Keene (PUP), LB Brandon King (PUP), TE Devin Asiasi (Covid-19), RB Rhamondre Stevenson (NFI), LB Cameron McGrone (NFI), S Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI), LB Anfernee Jennings (unknown)

Returnees: OT Trent Brown (PUP), LB Kyle Van Noy (PUP)

Injuries

There were no injuries during today’s practice.

Takeaways

Quarterbacks: Jarrett Stidham was the lone quarterback missing from the bunch as he opened camp on the PUP list. Cam Newton, Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer all split reps with Newton leading off every drill; he was then followed by Jones with Hoyer going last. As noted above, it was all low red zone during both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills; Newton and Jones split the majority of the reps.

Newton certainly looks to have added a bit more zip on his passes, with the ball coming out a bit quicker and tighter out of his hand. Jones’ decision making and accuracy was on display in practice as well. He made a great throw to Nelson Agholor in stride on a crosser after coming off his first read to hit Agholor on the far side.

However, they both struggled in some series. Newton was picked off by Adrian Phillips inside the five; he also missed Hunter Henry on an out as he threw it behind him. Jones went 1-for-4 in his final 11-on-11 series and took what would have been a sack.

Defense dominates: The defense did not make life easy for the Patriots quarterbacks on the first day of camp. The front seven got pressure on all the QBs and had a few would-be sacks. The secondary, meanwhile, challenged the pass catchers and allowed them very little room to work with.

Dont’a Hightower made a nice play early on in 11s, jumping up and making a nice pass breakup on a throw from Mac Jones intended for Devin Ross. Reakwon McMillan had an interception in 11-on-11 work; he closely covered James White and caused the ball to pop up into the air before intercepting what would have been a pick-six going the other way.

The best player on the field today had to be Adrian Phillips, though. He put the clamps on the Patriots’ tight ends, particularly Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. At one point, he jammed Henry at the line of scrimmage and was all over him before picking off Cam Newton. He then made a great play on an end zone fade as he went up and knocked the ball out of Smith’s hands on what was a good ball from Newton.

N’Keal Harry’s strong start: Harry has been in the headlines recently due to his agent’s request to get traded out of New England and looking for a “fresh start.” However, he showed up on Day 1 and caught a pair touchdowns — one each from Cam Newton and Mac Jones. On one of them, Harry made a nice adjustment and came back to catch a low dart from Newton with Jalen Mills all over him. On the other score he created great separation on Kyle Dugger, went up, and came down with a nice catch in the back of the endzone.

Harry certainly looked motivated on the first day of camp and was one of the best wide receivers on the field during Wednesday’s session.

Sony Michel’s health: It is hard to get a grasp on the running backs without the pads on but one thing that stood out to me was how healthy Michel looked. For the first time in his four years in New England, he was full-go for the first day of camp — he started on the PUP list all of his first three years in the league. Michel looked quicker, shiftier and more explosive today which is promising for the 2018 first-round pick as he competes for snaps in a crowded running back room.

Hey rook! Mac Jones got an early wake-up call to his first training camp as he fumbled an exchange on a jet sweep to Jonnu Smith in goal line work. The rookie then had to take his first penalty lap but was greeted with tons of cheers from the fans as he jogged past the hill and the stands.

Fan questions

Answer: There’s no secret this team has vastly improved its front seven from a year ago. It’s still too early to tell in camp what types of formations they will run, but with the additions of Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Davon Godchaux parlayed with the projected Year 2 leap from Josh Uche as well as the contributions out of rookies Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins, the Patriots may have a Top-3 defense on paper.

Answer: On a roster with so much depth at several spots, the kicker spot is certainly a positional battle that is flying under the radar a bit. Nick Folk was one of the few bright spots for the Patriots last year but undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin has a big leg with experience in cold weather. As the younger and cheaper option, he’ll certainly push Folk for the job and will look to extend the undrafted rookie making the initial 53-man roster out of camp.

Answer: As Bill Belichick stated in his pre-camp press conference yesterday, he “wasn’t going to discuss contracts or personal situations.” However, after Harry’s agent requested a trade a month ago, Harry will be one of the storylines throughout training camp. After New England spent big money on Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, and also added Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor to their wide receiver room, Harry is certainly looking up at the depth chart at the start of camp. Harry will likely be battling for that WR4/WR5 spot on a roster that’s going to be in heavy sets with their two TEs a majority of the time, it will be worth monitoring what happens with Harry. As stated above, he did look good on Day 1 of training camp, though.