The New England Patriots ended their first week of training camp on Saturday, returning to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for a fourth straight day. While the practice itself was once again held in shells instead of full pads — those will be put on by Tuesday — there still was a lot to talk about.
With that said, let’s dig into it and clean out the notebook from Day 4 of camp.
Mac Jones’ impressive finish
Rookie players are expected to have their fair share of ups and downs, and first-round draft picks such as Patriots quarterback Mac Jones are no exception. Jones has had some inconsistent moments on Saturday as well, most prominently when going up against the starting defense.
His first shot at the unit ended with him going 0-for-4. Jones was unable to connect with Kendrick Bourne, was not on the same page as Jakobi Meyers and saw two of his passes batted by Davon Godchaux at the line of scrimmage and Kyle Van Noy on an attempted screen. However, the 15th overalls selection in this year’s draft bounced back strong after the disappointing start.
During his second series against the starting defense, Jones completed passes to Kristian Wilkerson, N’Keal Harry and Brandon Bolden, showing some strong rhythm in the process. He ended the session by showing some good agility — he evaded fellow rookie Ronnie Perkins on a pass rush attempt (although Perkins might have been in a position to bring him down in a live contact situation) — and hitting Jakobi Meyers for a touchdown.
Jones therefore ended his first week of NFL training camp on a high note.
Tre Nixon talks his special relationship with Ernie Adams
Mac Jones was the first player drafted by the Patriots this year, Tre Nixon was the last. Despite his seventh-round status, Nixon has a special place in New England history: he was hand-picked by since-retired research director Ernie Adams as his final draft choice.
Nixon spoke about the special relationship the two men have following Friday’s practice.
“Still to this day I feel honored. I wish he was actually still around just to see him out at practice, but that’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life. And like I said, I’m honored by that,” the youngster said.
Nixon also recalled a meeting he had with Adams after joining the organization, asking him why he was chosen as the Patriots’ final pick this year over other players.
“Ernie was actually on one of the treadmills and I went over to him and asked him, ‘Why me?’” the rookie said. “He kind of just told me, ‘Don’t think too far into it. You’re a big guy, you’re smart, and you’re fast, and that’s what we need to help us out in the Patriot Way.’ That’s the way he drafts people. He did say it wasn’t anything big, anything crazy just, ‘Do your best and go out there and show us what you can do.’”
Kristian Wilkerson throws his hat into wide receiver ring
Speaking of wide receivers, you may want to familiarize yourself with Kristian Wilkerson. A second-year man, who joined the Patriots’ practice squad last September and spent the remainder of his rookie campaign there, Wilkerson had a strong practice on Saturday.
While he still appears to be on the outside looking in based on the current composition of New England’s wide receiver depth chart, the white No. 17 jersey did catch a pair of touchdowns during team drills — one each from Cam Newton and Mac Jones. The fact that he has gotten reps with the team’s top two quarterbacks speaks for itself; Wilkerson seems to be farther ahead than Nixon, for comparison, and will be a player to watch when it comes to the final wide receiver spot on the active roster.
To find out more about Wilkerson, please make sure to check out his entry in our Patriots Roster Breakdown series from earlier this offseason.
Gunner Olszewski is turning into a leader on the punt return team
Even though he is only entering his third NFL season, Gunner Olszewski has seen quite a lot during his NFL career. A defensive back at Division-II’s Bemidji State, he joined the league as a rookie free agent and later made the transition to wide receiver and punt returner. He has been rather quiet as a wideout thus far into his career, but his special teams play has earned him a first-team All-Pro designation in 2020.
Olszewski again projects to play a prominent role in the return game this season, and he is embracing his role as one of the unit’s leaders.
“I try to talk to the guys on our punt return team as much as I can, and get them to see it the way I see it,” he said on Friday. And I talk to the other guys we have returning back there, like J.J. [Taylor], and I ask him if he’s looking at anything? As a punt returner, I told him, it helps having a plan, like when I catch that ball, I pick someone and that’s where I start.”
Olszewski is still among the younger players on the roster, but he is trying to become a mentor for those around him. He acknowledged himself that age or experience may not be on his side, but that he still can help out others.
“I’m only in Year 3, so I’m not going to sit here and act like I have all the answers,” he said. “But I can help out some of the younger guys now, which is pretty cool.”
Ronnie Perkins is in the business of picking brains
Third-round rookie Ronnie Perkins has some solid players to learn from in the New England locker room. On Friday, he singled out two veteran players in particular; Matthew Judon and Dont’a Hightower.
“I try to take as much as I can from them,” Perkins acknowledged.
“Just like — Matthew Judon — just watching him pass rush, even when I’m on the sideline, like watching what he’s doing pass rush. When we are watching film, just watch how Dont’a Hightower does some of his drops and everything. It’s trying to pick up small things from them. And then when I’m on the field and I’m doing something I ask them, ‘How should I do this? How can I do this better?’ So, just picking their brains anyway I can.”
Judon and Hightower are well-established players in the NFL, having appeared in a combined 198 regular season and playoff games. As far as role models are concerned, they are pretty decent ones.
A great gesture by Kendrick Bourne
Finally, let’s end the week on a high note. After finishing one drill during Saturday’s practice, first-year Patriot Kendrick Bourne headed over to the Patriots Charitable Foundation tent and gave the ball to one young spectator.
Our friends “The Camera Guys” were able to catch the moment on film:
A really kind gesture by Kendrick Bourne.— The Camera Guys (@NBCSCameraGuys) July 31, 2021
After finishing a drill he gives the ball to a boy in the Patriots Charitable Foundation tent.
Good dude. pic.twitter.com/sXrobg8g0I
It was a great gesture from Bourne, whose uplifting energy is obvious when watching him on the practice fields.