The New England Patriots held their third straight practice of the week on Friday morning, and they upped their intensity a bit. After wearing only helmets during the first two days of training camp and focusing primarily on red zone work, the team put on shells for session number three and decided to explore the entire.
Quarterbacks Cam Newton and Mac Jones both looked good and were among the winners from Friday’s practice, but their performances is not the only thing worth talking about. With that said, let’s clean out the notebook from Day 3.
Brian Hoyer on Mac Jones’ work ethic
New England’s first-round draft pick has had some impressive moments early in camp. While he was far from perfect — he had a rough stretch during 11-on-11s on Thursday, for example — it is obvious that he is progressing and getting more comfortable within the Patriots’ notoriously challenging offense.
Jones is able to do that because he is putting in the work, as fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer pointed out during his post-practice press conference on Friday.
“It’s not easy playing quarterback in the NFL. It’s not easy to play it here,” the veteran said. “He works his butt off and he cares a lot. So, I’m just there if he has a question, or if I see something that I can bring up with my past experiences and help him out. ...
“It’s not going to be easy. You’re not going to go out there and go 9-for-10. Everybody’s working one day at a time, and you can see how much he’s putting into it. I mean, I get text messages from him at 6 am. So, he’s doing a great job.”
Jones may have had his rookie growing pains, but he seems willing to get better in order to push incumbent Cam Newton for the starting gig.
Cam Newton wants to stop ‘overthinking things’
As for Newton, he has put a lot of work into his mechanics this offseason. After a strong practice on Friday — arguably one of his best since joining the organization last summer — he talked about just that, saying that he does not want to “overthink things” in the process.
“You just have a self-diagnostic check-in with yourself,” the former league MVP said.
“Where you don’t feel certain things are hitting the way they’re supposed to, as far as pop, zip on the ball, feeling your feet on the ground, understanding that you’ve got to a little more power to uncoil. … You still have to check in with yourself and know that, ‘All right, are my feet planted? Is my shoulders and my feet involved, and not just throwing it with my arm?’ So, it’s a full body type of technique that the arm gets credit for.”
Newton was one of the statistically worst passers in his first season with the Patriots. He is looking to bounce back in 2021 and an increased focus on mechanics as well as more experience and an improved supporting cast should help him do just that.
Ted Karras seems to have dodged a bullet
Training camp is the foundation for in-season success, but it can also be a costly affair for clubs as far as injuries are concerned. The Patriots had their first noteworthy incident on Friday, with Ted Karras going down on the third-to-last play of team drills. He managed to get up relatively quickly after getting rolled up, but limped towards the training staff before eventually walking off towards the locker room alongside head trainer Jim Whalen.
While the injury looked potentially serious, it seems as if Karras might have dodged a bullet. The 28-year-old will undergo further testing on his left knee, but there is some optimism that he avoided any serious injury, as first reported by Jeff Howe of The Athletic.
Karras is projected to serve as the top backup along the interior offensive line this season, and losing him for an extended period of time would be a significant blow to the Patriots’ depth up front. Luckily, it seems as if Karras and the team dodged a bullet even if he should not be expected to be back as early as Saturday.
Jarrett Stidham’s return put on hold
For the second year in a row Jarrett Stidham’s bad injury luck seems to prevent him from having a say in the race for the starting quarterback position. The third-year man is dealing with a back surgery, and had to undergo surgery on Wednesday.
With is recovery time estimated at 12 weeks, Stidham will miss the remainder of training camp and all of preseason before being able to return in late October. That means that he should be expected to remain on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) for the time being, and eventually get moved from “active” to “reserve” status.
This, in turn, would force him to miss at least six regular season games. If that happens, the October 24th game against the New York Jets could be his first back. Of course, that is all hypothetical as of today.
When it comes to the depth at the quarterback position, however, the Patriots will have to make a decision: With Stidham likely to stay on PUP for the foreseeable future, do they keep two or three quarterbacks on their 53-man team heading into the regular season?
Both Cam Newton and Mac Jones are locks, but the race for the number two spot could heat up in the coming weeks. Brian Hoyer has the inside track based on his experience, but Jake Dolegala spent last year on New England’s practice squad before being re-signed earlier this week (a move directly correlated to Stidham’s status).
The two will fight for the QB3 role this summer, but there is no guarantee the Patriots will keep both of them on their active team in Week 1. Don’t be surprised if Newton and Jones are the only passers to make the cut initially, with Hoyer and Dolegala both practice squad options as additional layers of depth before Stidham’s eventual return.
Rhamondre Stevenson is back
There were some encouraging injury-related news as well on Friday. Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson returned after having started training camp on the non-football injury list. Stevenson is projected to compete against Damien Harris and Sony Michel for the early-down running back role, but he obviously is behind the two veterans at the moment.
As for Friday, he participated in individual drills and also saw some opportunities to catch the football in the process. Given the current practice setup, however, he did not make much of an impact as a runner: with no live tackling allowed, Stevenson will not yet be able to showcase the physicality that made him a fourth-round draft pick earlier this year.
Friday and Saturday should therefore be seen as opportunities for him to get his feet wet a bit before full pads are put on next Tuesday.