The New England Patriots were back on the practice fields one Wednesday, to officially open this year’s training camp. There was a heavy focus on situational red zone work during the session, meaning that it did not yet give a full impression of how the coaching staff views its roster at this point in time.
That said, it does allow us to take the closest look at this year’s team to date. It also gives us an opportunity to highlight those that stood out on Wednesday.
Winner: S Adrian Phillips
Adrian Phillips might have just been the best defender on the field on Wednesday. Even though the second-year Patriot was tasked with closely guarding the team’s new tight end additions on multiple occasions — Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry — he impressively stood his ground and made his presence felt throughout the session.
Phillips finished the day with two pass breakups, and he also intercepted quarterback Cam Newton on a throw intended for Henry. While Kyle Dugger will wear Patrick Chung’s old No. 23 jersey moving forward, Phillips might actually be the guy to take over a Chung-like role against opposing tight ends this season. On Day 1 of camp he certainly looked like he could be up to the task.
Winner: WR N’Keal Harry
While his future in New England very much remains in question at this point in time, Harry had a solid first day of training camp. The former first-round draft pick, whose agent publicly requested a trade earlier this offseason, was actively involved throughout the day.
Harry definitely had some good moments, including a back-shoulder touchdown catch from Cam Newton with Jalen Mills in coverage. The wideout made a nice adjustment on the play to come away with the low pass. Harry might not have looked like a clear and consistent WR1, but he had a solid practice nonetheless.
Winner: WR Nelson Agholor
Nelson Agholor was the first player on the field on Wednesday, and he continued to catch the eye during the actual session. The first-year Patriot caught two touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Mac Jones during a rather competitive part of practice, and he also showed an ability to create separation — something New England’s entire skill position group struggled to do on a consistent basis in 2020.
One practice is the smallest of sample sizes, obviously, but Agholor appears to be off to an encouraging start.
Winner: LB Raekwon McMillan
If you had Raekwon McMillan as the player to register the first interception during this year’s camp, take a bow.
McMillan, who was signed to a one-year contract in free agency earlier this offseason, picked off a Cam Newton pass attempt intended for James White. The play was more the result of White allowing the ball to go through his hands than anything else, but the linebacker was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that is all that is needed to play good, opportunistic defense.
Usually, columns like this one are broken down into winners and losers. With the Patriots focusing mostly on situational work while practicing in a no-pads setting, however, no players stood out to qualify for the dreaded “loser” tag.