The New England Patriots will return to the practice fields on Thursday morning for the 19th session of their 2021 training camp. As was the case for session No. 18, they will not be alone: 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 second and final of those sessions will take place on Thursday, and here are three things we will keep an eye on.
The Patriots’ incumbent starting quarterback was forced to sit out the last five days following an apparent “misunderstanding” about Covid-19 guidelines. As Bill Belichick confirmed during his press conference on Thursday morning, however, Cam Newton will be back with the team for the second joint session versus the Giants.
The main question now becomes how the team will use him relative to rookie Mac Jones. Jones took all of the starter reps during the three practices Newton missed, and he looked impressive especially on Wednesday: the first-round draft pick shredded the Giants’ defense and looked very much in control of running the show in New England.
Will Newton now resume his role as the first quarterback up in team drills? Or will Jones keep the QB1 status he held from Monday through Wednesday? And how will both passers perform? Questions about questions, but as colleague Pat Lane pointed out: Thursday’s session could give us a glimpse into how head coach Bill Belichick views his quarterback room 17 days before the regular season opener.
New England’s defensive line
Mac Jones stole the show on Wednesday, but the Patriots were dominant in other areas as well. Take their defensive line: the unit made life hard for the Giants throughout the day, registering multiple would-be sacks along the way.
Will it carry its momentum into Thursday’s session as well? That remains to be seen, but it certainly is something we will keep a close eye on.
Wednesday’s practice in hot conditions saw several Patriots players go down with apparent injuries. Offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and wide receiver Nelson Agholor both were forced to depart the session, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower having his left hamstring stretched out. Jakobi Meyers came down slowly after one catch but finished practice without any visible limitations.
With temperatures again expected to approach 90 degrees, Thursday’s practice will again put plenty of pressure on each player’s body. Add the fact that the clubs are projected to wear full pads and the environment will not just be a competitive but challenging one as well across the board.
As for yesterday’s things to watch, here are a few quick notes:
Mac Jones against a new NFL defense: The Patriots’ first-round rookie was spectacular in his first practice versus the Giants defense. Jones looked in total control from start to finish, and had only a few hiccups along the way. Again seeing the bulk of the reps with Cam Newton sidelined, he showed solid chemistry with the Patriots’ receiving corps — at one point completing 18 straight throws.
The Patriots running backs: With Sony Michel off to Los Angeles, the Patriots employed their running backs a bit differently. Damien Harris was the first man up during 11-on-11 periods, but fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson received RB2 snaps followed by J.J. Taylor. The two youngsters appear to be well on their way to earning roster spots with Michel no longer part of the equation. James White, meanwhile, caught six passes from Mac Jones during competitive team drills.
New England’s tight end defense: New England’s defense had a hard time going up against Philadelphia’s tight ends in practice last week, but the unit looked strong going up against the Giants’. Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, who are mostly responsible for covering tight ends, had solid days: Phillips registered a pass breakup, while Dugger had an interception off of New York starting quarterback Daniel Jones.