It was an interesting start to the New England Patriots’ final week of their 2021 preseason. News came out on Monday morning that quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t on the field at the start of practice due to the league’s Covid-19 protocols and a “misunderstanding about tests conducted away from NFL facilities.”
With Newton out, Mac Jones became the quarterback who spent the majority of the days with the first team while Brian Hoyer led the twos. As the Patriots gear up for two joint practices with the New York Giants this week, Newton’s absence opens the door for Jones, who now has a big opportunity ahead for him.
Non-participants: QB Cam Newton, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Tre Nixon, TE Matt LaCosse, CB/S Myles Bryant
PUP/NFI: QB Jarrett Stidham (PUP), CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP), S Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI), LB Cameron McGrone (NFI), LB Terez Hall (PUP), DT Byron Cowart (PUP)
Returnees: LB Josh Uche, TE Jonnu Smith, K Nick Folk, LS Joe Cardona, LB Anfernee Jennings, DT Lawrence Guy
While Newton’s absence was the biggest news of the day, the Patriots also saw some important players return to practice. Among them was second-year linebacker Josh Uche, who left last Thursday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles with an undisclosed injury.
CB Dee Virgin: Virgin was checked out by head trainer Jim Whalen midway through the session, but he returned to practice.
DT Nick Thurman: Thurman also spent time with Whalen but he later went to the locker room.
Mac Jones dominates reps during an up-and-down practice: Cam Newton being out opens the door for the rookie to separate himself in a tight quarterback battle, and on Monday he saw plenty of action: as charted by Evan Lazar of CLNS Media, Jones took 31 first-team reps while Hoyer threw just 10 passes during Monday’s practice.
The first-round reportedly rookie connected on 17 of 31 throws during competitive drills. He did show flashes of the rhythm and timing needed to succeed in a Josh McDaniel offense, but also had his ups and downs: Jones went just 9-for-21 during the first 11-on-11 period against New England’s starters.
With Newton set to be out until at least Thursday, Jones will continue to have his hands full as he and Hoyer are the only other quarterbacks currently on the roster. Jones is expected to receive consistent first-team reps — including versus the Giants on Wednesday.
Jonnu Smith returns to practice, while Hunter Henry remains limited: Monday’s practice was good news for the Patriots after a rough week at the tight end position. Smith returned to practice and was full-go after coming down with an ankle injury last Sunday and sitting out the entire week in Philadelphia.
Hunter Henry continued to show up at practice but was limited as he continues to nurse a shoulder injury suffered a few weeks ago.
Joejuan Williams continues to see starter-level reps: Midway through his third training camp in the NFL, Joejuan Williams appears to finally be hitting his stride. On Monday, he reportedly again saw plenty of action with the first-team defense as an outside cornerback opposite J.C. Jackson.
Stephon Gilmore remains out on the physically unable to perform list.
Nick Folk is inconsistent in his return: After Quinn Nordin was inconsistent in Thursday night’s win, the Patriots got veteran Nick Folk back on the field and he monopolized kicking opportunities. His undisclosed injury forced him to miss 10 practices as well as the first two pre-season games.
Folk went 3-for-5 on field goal attempts from around the 40-yard range. The Patriots will look to continue the consistency they got from Folk last year after he made 93 percent of his field goals a season ago.