The wait is finally over and the New England Patriots back on the practice fields to start their preparation for the 2021 season. On Wednesday, they held their first session of the summer in rainy conditions behind Gillette Stadium. While neither the weather nor the attendance were perfect, the session was one of high energy and an encouraging start into camp.
A lot of things happened during and after the session, so let’s clean out the notebook.
Fans create a different vibe in Foxborough
While the conditions may not have been entirely perfect for spectators, thousands turned up for the Patriots’ first practice. It was, in fact, their first event in front of fans since their wild card playoff loss against the Tennessee Titans in January 2020 — almost 19 months ago.
The fans made sure to bring a proper energy as well, and the players certainly seem to have noticed.
“It’s really real,” said tight end Jonnu Smith after the session. “Everything you talk about Foxborough and the love and energy, it was a great feeling coming out here. Guys were making one-yard catches and they’re going crazy. Just being able to experience this and to be a Patriot, it’s a great feeling, it’s a blessing.”
Smith is in his first training camp with the Patriots after having spent the previous four years with the Tennessee Titans. His new teammate Adrian Phillips is already in his second season in the program, but he also had no prior experience working out in front of the Foxborough faithful.
“We have Covid and everything going on so it was going to be a little different with the restrictions and everything, but for the most part it just felt like training camp,” he said about Wednesday’s practice. “You come out, you see the fans, you’re happy to see them back in the stands, and you know that you’re just about to grind with your brothers. It felt as normal as it could.”
Fellow defender Lawrence Guy echoed those thoughts, pointing out the motivation aspect of having people in the stands to cheer him and his teammates on.
“Playing without fans sucked. I don’t care what anybody says, it is not fun,” the team captain said. “Having the fans out here for training camp is a big motivation.”
Jarrett Stidham could remain sidelined for some time
All eyes were on the Patriots’ quarterback competition, but one member of the group remained absent. Third-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham was not spotted on Wednesday after being sent to the physically unable to perform list last week.
It seems as if he could remain sidelined for quite some time. According to a report by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Stidham “has been experiencing pain in his right shoulder and back while throwing the football” and that surgery might be an option for the 24-year-old.
Stidham was expected to compete for the starting quarterback role last summer, but a hip injury forced him to miss some time and to essentially drop out of the race for the QB1 job. Instead, Cam Newton was named the Patriots’ starter for the 2020 season. This year, Newton will compete against first-round rookie Mac Jones all while Stidham has to watch the action from afar.
New England added Jake Dolegala on Wednesday to offer depth behind Newton, Jones and veteran Brian Hoyer.
Mac Jones leaves an early impression on his teammates
The 15th overall selection in this year’s draft had a solid first training camp practice. After entering the field under plenty of cheers, Mac Jones went on to share reps with Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer, usually being the second man in the rotation.
While this first session was a limited look into his potential within New England’s quarterback race, his teammates spoke highly about him afterwards.
“Works hard,” said Adrian Phillips. “He’s been working hard since he got here. I’m not in the room so I don’t really know the specifics. I just know that he works hard. Good dude.”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower also positively mentioned Jones’ work ethic.
“I haven’t been able to sit down and critique everything that he’s doing, and I don’t see me doing that anyway, but he’s a sponge,” the team captain said. “He’s a smart kid, makes good throws and good decisions, and, hopefully, he’s got Cam and Josh and all those guys to lean on. He’s one of those guys who’s going to make the team better, and make that room better.”
Jones was also praised by tight end Jonnu Smith. Calling him “Macsonville” due to his home town of Jacksonville, Florida, Smith said that he was surprised by the swagger the rookie is bringing to the team.
“I’m going to be honest man, I didn’t expect Mac to have the kind of swagger that he got. When I saw him walking on draft day I was like, ‘Oh,’ you know what I’m saying?” Smith noted. “Mac, hell of a guy. Great energy. Just bringing life to the locker room. Always laughing, smile on his face. Loves football. Can’t ask for a better quarterback.”
Anfernee Jennings’ surprise absence
A total of eleven players were either not spotted or not participating during Wednesday’s practice. While almost all of them were accounted for after previously having been placed on injury-related reserve lists, the absence of second-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings was suspicious.
While no official word has been said, Pats Pulpit’s own Keagan Stiefel reported that Jennings is dealing with the death of his grandfather. That might be an explanation for him not participating in the first practice of the summer.
Adrian Phillips is building on his successful first season in New England
The Patriots’ 2020 offseason was more about high-profile departures than arrivals, but the team still found a valuable contributor despite its limited resources: Adrian Phillips proved himself an important member of New England’s secondary last year, playing the hybrid “star” role as a mix between strong safety and off-the-ball linebacker.
Heading into his second season in the system, he pointed out that he is now feeling a lot more comfortable than he did a year ago.
“I feel more comfortable,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “Last year was tough just because it was Covid. I really didn’t get the whole New England experience, but now I’m getting out so it feels like it’s my first year again but I’m more comfortable because I’ve been here already.”
Phillips was one of the standouts of the first training camp session of the summer. Going up against both Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry on a somewhat regular basis, he finished with two pass breakups as well as an interception.
The Patriots will hold their second practice of the week on Thursday, beginning at 9:45 am. Fans are once again invited to attend the session, with gates scheduled to open at 8:30 am. For more information, please check out our Pats Pulpit Training Camp Guide.
Pats Pulpit’s Ryan Spagnoli will once again be at Gillette Stadium as well to bring you all the latests news from camp. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @Ryan_Spags.