The first week of the New England Patriots’ training camp is in the books. The fourth and final practice in a row saw the team once again wearing shells while performing in the largest crowd to date. The spectators did not necessarily witness the same impressive performances as on Friday — especially at the quarterback position — but there was still plenty of good football.
With that said, let’s take a look at those who stood out on Saturday.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
Earlier this week, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted that Damien Harris would be in a good position to earn the lead running back role. While his running abilities are not fully on display just yet with the team not in full pads, he looked good as a pass catcher on Saturday.
Harris caught two passes in full-team team work — one each from Cam Newton and Mac Jones. The Newton reception was noteworthy in particular: Harris did a nice job of tracking the fade in the back right corner of the end zone, barely keeping his feet in bounds while doing so. There is a chance the play might have been overturned if a review process was in place but it was an impressive catch nonetheless.
Winners: WR Nelson Agholor & WR Kristian Wilkerson
Nelson Agholor continues to be the best wide receiver on the field, and he again stood out on Saturday while continuing to show his abilities in the deep passing game. Another wideout also caught the eye, though: second-year man Kristian Wilkerson finished the session with two touchdowns during team work.
While Wilkerson still faces an uphill climb to make the team, performances such as Saturday’s certainly help.
Winner: TE Jonnu Smith
After a comparatively quiet start, Jonnu Smith has hit his stride recently. After catching five passes during team drills on Friday, he added four more (on five targets) during the final practice of the week.
Smith caught two of three passes thrown his way by Cam Newton, and both of Mac Jones’ attempts. The free agency acquisition is getting more comfortable within the New England offense, and it shows. It will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels still has in store for him.
Loser: QB Cam Newton
First things first: the Patriots’ incumbent starting quarterback was not particularly bad on Saturday. However, he was quite inconsistent again after strong performance one day earlier. Newton went just 2-of-5 during his final full-team period against the starting defense and on the day had multiple inaccurate passes. In total, six of his throws were off target compared to only one such pass on Friday.
Newton still has the inside track for the starting quarterback role — something Bill Belichick very much confirmed on Saturday morning — but he continues to have his ups and downs.
Winner: K Quinn Nordin
Even though Quinn Nordin still faces an uphill climb to beat out incumbent place kicker Nick Folk, the undrafted rookie had some encouraging moments on Saturday. Nordin attempted some field goals after not doing so the previous day, and went 6-for-7. The numbers may not be outstanding, but the simple fact that he was given a chance presents a step in the right direction for the youngster.
Winner: LB Brandon King
Brandon King did not stand out for any one particular reason, but his presence on the field alone is enough to qualify him as a winner on Saturday. After all, the veteran special teamer had missed the last two seasons due to injury: he tore his quad during the 2019 preseason and was unable to come back in 2020 as well.
Now, he finally returned. After starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, King was back today for his first practice after an absence that lasted more than 23 months.