With the New England Patriots wearing shells for the first time — players were in helmets only on Wednesday and Thursday — the third practice of their 2021 training camp was the most intense to date. It also was a sign of things to come with New England transitioning into full pads and live tackling by next week.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, however, let’s take a look back at Friday’s session to see who stood out for better or worse.
Winner: WR Nelson Agholor
The Patriots signing Nelson Agholor to a two-year, $22 million contract in March raised some eyebrows at the time, and it has yet to be seen whether or not he will live up to that massive price tag. However, through three days of training camp he appears to be on his way to play a big role in New England’s passing offense this season.
On Friday, Agholor put on a show. The former first-round draft pick caught six passes and two of them were highlight-reel plays. He came down with a 50/50 pass from Cam Newton on a deep out route and later plucked the ball out of mid-air for a touchdown. He did have a drop on a perfectly-placed deep pass from Mac Jones, but all in all Agholor was very good in just his third training camp practice in New England.
Winner: TE Jonnu Smith
While Jonnu Smith was a bit more quiet over the first two days compared to fellow offseason additions Hunter Henry and Nelson Agholor, he stood out big time on Friday. The 25-year-old had five catches during team drills and was used all over the field.
His best play of the day might have come during a 3-on-3 drill. Smith was able to out-leap safety Devin McCourty for a touchdown, showcasing his combination of size, athletic ability and physicality in the process.
Loser: RB J.J. Taylor
J.J. Taylor is competing not just for a role in New England’s running back rotation, but he also was used in the return game over the last three days. Late during Friday’s session, the second-year man saw some action in the punt return game. However, he muffed one of the kicks he was about to field.
One muffed punt will not be the deciding factor when it comes to earning a role on the roster, but Taylor will need a short memory to come back strong after his miscue.
Winners: QB Cam Newton & Mac Jones
Yes, practice without full pads is not an accurate representation of their outlook. However, the Patriots’ quarterbacks still looked very good on Friday. After some inconsistencies during the first two days, both Cam Newton and Mac Jones looked much more comfortable and were able to successfully distribute the football all day long.
With the focus no longer just on red zone work, Newton and Jones were finally allowed to push the ball down the field. The veteran had two impressive connections with Agholor and also threw a touchdown to Gunner Olszewski; the rookie had arguably the best pass of the day when he hooked up with Kendrick Bourne in the back right corner of the end zone.
Full pads sessions will give us a clearer picture of the quarterback competition, but if Friday’s practice is a sign of things to come it should be a fun battle.
Loser: CB Joejuan Williams
A former second-round draft pick who saw most of his action on special teams the last two years, Joejuan Williams is seemingly fighting for a job this summer. He has plenty of time to win one, and has had some encouraging moments over the last three days. On Friday, however, he also was on the receiving end of one of the best offensive plays of the day.
Williams, who was measured at almost 6-foot-4 entering the NFL, was Moss’d by wide receiver Marvin Hall on a pass from Brian Hoyer. Hall, for comparison, is 5-foot-10.
Williams does not have to win every matchup to make a positive impact, but he should be able to use his size advantage on a regular basis. He couldn’t do it on this particular play.