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3 things to watch on the first day of the Patriots’ joint practices with the Giants

Related: Setting the stage for the Patriots’ joint practices with the Giants this week

NFL: JUL 31 New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots are back on the practice fields for the 18th session of their 2021 training camp. As opposed to the last two days, however, they are not alone for this one: the New York Giants are in town for a pair of joint practices.

The two teams will face off in the preseason finale on Sunday — a game that will be played in New Jersey despite joint sessions taking place in Massachusetts — but leading into the contest they will also share the practice fields twice. The first of those sessions will take place on Wednesday morning, and here are three things we will keep an eye on.

Mac Jones against a new NFL defense

So far in his young career, Mac Jones has played against two different NFL defenses. He went up against the Washington Football Team’s in the preseason opener, and spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles’ during joint practices and another exhibition contest last week. Now, he will get his next taste of another defense.

How will he handle it, especially considering that he will again be New England’s QB1 with Cam Newton out for another day? And will he be able to build on the momentum he created versus Washington and Philadelphia? And will he show the necessary consistency after some ups and downs during Monday’s full-pads practice? All of those aspects will be worth keeping a close eye on.

The Patriots running backs

The Patriots shook up their running back position on Wednesday morning, trading Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of conditional late-round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. With Michel no longer part of the equation, the rest of New England’s running backs group now has an opportunity to see more practice reps and earn regular playing time.

The two players to watch in particular are youngsters J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson. Taylor and Stevenson have been New England’s most productive backs this preseason, and with Michel gone they project to be next in line for an uptick in opportunities. Will they take advantage of them as early as Wednesday?

New England’s tight end defense

The Patriots defense showed some inconsistencies versus the Eagles last week, especially in one area: covering tight ends. Both Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger had their fair share of issues with Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz, whose size created problems for the two defenders.

The Giants may not have the same quality at the tight end position, but they still have a good group in its own right. Led by free agency addition Kyle Rudolph, who was just activated off the physically unable to perform list, it also features Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, Nakia Griffin-Stewart and rookie Jake Hausman. Rudolph and former first-round pick Engram are particularly interesting matchups for the Patriots secondary.

As for yesterday’s things to watch, here are a few quick notes:

Mac Jones versus the starting defense: Mac Jones had an up-and-down day against the Patriots’ top-level defense on Monday, but he bounced back with a solid performance the following day. With Cam Newton remaining out, he took the bulk of reps yet again but looked much more comfortable spreading the football around. Yes, Jones had two interceptions, but he also made some very good throws and displayed a good rhythm.

The depth wide receivers: After not seeing any targets from Jones on Monday, the Patriots’ depth wide receivers were more active better on Tuesday. Gunner Olszewski caught four passes on six targets and Kristian Wilkerson had three receptions on four throws coming his way. On the other end of the spectrum was Isaiah Zuber, who did not haul in the lone pass coming his way. Devin Ross, meanwhile, was released.

Joejuan Williams’ performance: The Patriots’ former second-round investment again saw considerable action with the starter-level defense on Tuesday. While Williams had a somewhat quiet day, he was on the wrong end of a Nelson Agholor touchdown catch. That said, Williams was solid for most of the day. It was another step in the right direction.