The New England Patriots held a comparatively light practice inside Gillette Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. With the preseason opener against the Washington Football Team a mere two days away, the team focused primarily on preparatory work in a walkthrough setting.
The session may have been a comparatively uneventful one, but there is still plenty to talk about. Let’s clean out the notebook.
Do the Patriots have a kicker competition?
Incumbent place kicker Nick Folk, who was re-signed earlier this offseason, remains sidelined and it seems increasingly unlikely that he will suit up for the preseason opener on Thursday. That means that undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin will once again be pushed into action.
Nordin, who was looking at jobs on LinkedIn before the Patriots gave him a shot four days into rookie free agency, was impressive filling in for Folk. After going 10-for-10 during the first in-stadium practice last Friday, Nordin was perfect again on Tuesday. The youngster went 4-for-4 and split the uprights from 48, 33, 43, and 46-yards outs. Add it up, and you get a player who made all 14 of his field goal and extra point attempts inside Gillette Stadium.
So, where does that leave the kicker position? Based on his contract, Folk still appears to be the frontrunner to earn the job: releasing him and his $1.23 million in guarantees would be a comparatively tough pill to swallow. The Patriots would also lose additional money against their cap if they were to release Folk, as Miguel Benzan pointed out on Twitter:
If Quinn Nordin beats out Nick Folk the Patriots will lose $283,529 in cap space as Nordin’s $660K will replace Folk’s total active roster bonus amount of $376,471. Note Folk’s $1.1M salary is fully guaranteed. Pats would get a credit if he were to receive cash from another team.
Despite New England possibly getting a credit against their 2022 cap, the financial aspect favors Folk.
However, the Patriots have never shied away from making tough decisions if they are in the best long-term interest of the team. Accordingly, Nordin appears to have a realistic chance to beat out Folk in case the veteran misses additional practice or in-game opportunities and the youngster himself continues stacking strong performances.
N’Keal Harry ‘is the same guy’ he was in 2020, thinks Jakobi Meyers
N’Keal Harry is in the middle of his best training camp since joining the Patriots in 2019. After two disappointing seasons, the former first-round draft pick therefore appears to be well on his way to making a third-year jump and finally living up to his draft pedigree.
Obviously, a lot can still happen over the course of the summer, but the first signs have certainly been encouraging. Nonetheless, one of Harry’s teammates thinks that he is still the same guy he was last season.
“I feel like N’Keal is the same guy,” said Jakobi Meyers on Tuesday.
“Not everybody got to see the N’Keal that I saw. You didn’t get to see how hard he worked off the field, or the time that he put in. You just saw what happened on game day. Football doesn’t necessarily love anybody. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and that’s all they saw. They didn’t see all the work he was putting in behind the scenes.”
Despite all his work, Harry finished the 2020 season catching only 33 passes for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Earlier this offseason his agent publicly requested the Patriots trade his client, but a move has obviously not materialized yet.
Matthew Judon is ready for his first game as a Patriot
The Patriots handed out some big contracts in free agency, but no deal surpassed Matthew Judon’s. The veteran linebacker received a four-year pact worth $56 million. On Thursday, Judon will make his New England debut, and based on his statements after Tuesday’s practice he is locked in and ready to go.
“I don’t [get] anxious, but I am ready. Every time I have the opportunity to step on the football field is a gift. I won’t take it for granted. However many plays I’m playing, if I got to play through the fourth quarter, whatever it is, I’m going to give it my all and my best. You never know when it’s your last play, so take advantage of all of them,” he said.
“You take every opportunity and you give it your most. You don’t want to put bad film out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason, the fifth game of the season, you’re playing a team that’s 0-something, or you guys are 0-something, when you go out there, that film lasts forever. We can pull up film from [Lawrence Taylor] or Warren Sapp or any of the greats, and whenever they go out there and that eye in the sky is on, they’re performing.”
Judon was brought aboard to help bolster a Patriots defensive front seven that struggled mightily in 2020. Now expected to play a starter-level role alongside fellow offseason addition Kyle Van Noy and Coronavirus opt-out list returnee Dont’a Hightower, the soon-to-be 29-year-old has looked good in training camp so far.
However, he is well aware that in-game performance is something else — regardless if it takes place during the exhibition schedule or not.
“With any football game, we’re going to have reporters there. Y’all are going to report what y’all see. If I come out there and look sloppy, that’s what y’all are going to report and that’s what y’all should report. Y’all shouldn’t preface it with, ‘Well, but it was preseason,’” he said.
“When I come out here, I have to do my job and I have to perform well. I think everybody on the defense is going to take that mindset and when we come out here, we have to look as a unit, as a team.”
Patriots’ cornerback depth in the spotlight again
While Tuesday’s practice was a lighter affair compared to the previous two sessions, a few things still stood out. One was the aforementioned competition between Quinn Nordin and Nick Folk for the place kicker position. Another was the depth at cornerback.
With Stephon Gilmore still on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots field J.C. Jackson as their number one guy. Jalen Mills is aligning as the starter opposite him, but he appears to be better suited to play on the inside.
In the meantime, third-year man Michael Jackson appears to be establishing himself as the frontrunner for a depth spot alongside the three roster locks. Jackson broke up another pass on Tuesday, bringing his total to five in the last three practices.
Jackson earning the number four role on the outside would not be a surprise based on his recent performances, but it would be a disappointing development for third-year man Joejuan Williams: the former second-round draft pick continues to underwhelm, with Jackson seemingly having surpassed him on the depth chart. Maybe Williams can turn his fortunes around in preseason, but the chances of that happening seem low.