The New England Patriots’ joint practices, and indeed their training camp as a whole, are in the books. The team joined forces with the New York Giants yet again on Thursday, holding another fully-padded session in the sweltering Foxborough summer.
The Patriots will hold another session on Friday that will be closed to the general public and only partially open to the media, before eventually traveling to New Jersey for their preseason meeting with the team. Before our focus turns to those events, however, let’s take a look back at what happened on Thursday.
Dont’a Hightower likes what he sees from Josh Uche
The Patriots’ pass rush had a dominant day on Thursday, registering multiple would-be sacks against the Giants’ offense. The most disruptive player on the New England side was second-year linebacker Josh Uche, who would have had three sacks would he be allowed to take down the opposing quarterback.
After practice, fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower was asked about Uche. The team captain spoke highly of his energy and work ethic, and also likened him to another Patriots defender.
“He’s like a little [Matthew] Judon, almost, “Hightower said. “Honestly, that’s big brother, little brother. He brings a lot of energy. A different energy; a younger, generational energy. But I love it. He’s a hard worker. He’s always asking questions. It’s never a dull moment around Uche, I’ll say that.”
Judon, who arrived as a free agent earlier this offseason, has been a big-play machine for the Patriots through two preseason games despite seeing limited reps. The team will obviously hope that he and Uche will form a productive duo on the edge, be it in the pass rush or against the run.
Uche’s impact on the team does not only come on the field, however, as Hightower also pointed out.
“Being around here can be a little slugglish or whatever. So, whenever you have guys like that to brighten up the mood, brighten up the locker room, the meetings, whatever it is, you need that around here. I appreciate him for that,” he said.
Brian Hoyer stresses the importance of communication
The Patriots offense may not have dominated in the same fashion as it did on Wednesday, but it still had some encouraging moments. After practice, the elder statesman in the room was asked his thoughts of the unit and how big of a role communication within the different position groups plays, especially together with the QBs.
“It’s a collaboration, I think. We all feed off each other,” Brian Hoyer said. “Cam [Newton] has his opinion; Mac [Jones] is obviously new and learning from him. Everybody is a little bit different, everybody learns differently or goes out and does it differently. That’s a collaboration. There’s a lot of times where we spend time, where we’re just with the receivers or with the tight ends.
“You watch the film together and say, ‘Hey, how did you feel about this route? Hey, when you seen this coverage do this.’ I think for me, and that’s something that I’ve learned being in this system for years, you have to be in constant communication. You can’t just go out there practice and watch it as quarterbacks and never talk to the receivers. I think that would be a terrible idea.”
Hoyer mentioned how the team would create an environment that allows the free flow of ideas between quarterbacks, receivers, and coaches.
“We do a good job of meeting together with obviously Josh [McDaniels] and Mick Lombardi and Nick Caley, those guys heavily involved in that passing game, just open discussion: ‘Hey, this is how we see it, this is how you have to run it. Do this then...’” he said.
“There’s a lot that goes into it and I feel like there’s always great communication going on. I don’t think anyone says, ‘Hey, you have to do it this way.’ I think everybody has to see it through the same set of eyes and that’s where the communication’s key.”
There is reportedly ‘no cause for concern’ with David Andrews
The last two days have been challenging for both teams, and multiple players were forced to exit due to apparent medical issues. Among them was Patriots starting center David Andrews, who departed Thursday’s practice with what appeared to be a right foot/ankle issue. He did not return, which is always an ominous sign.
However, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, it seems as if Andrews should be fine moving forward. It reportedly “doesn’t sound like there’s any cause for concern” with the team captain. Needless to say that that is good news for New England’s offense.
Kristian Wilkerson is trying to show mental toughness in light of recent challenges
Early in training camp, second-year wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson was turning heads. He saw regular action with the first-team offense and appeared to make a serious push for a roster spot. Since then, however, the hype train has slowed down significantly.
Wilkerson started having issues with drops, and his targets became far less regular. On Thursday, for example, he saw three targets between Cam Newton and Mac Jones, but was unable to haul any of them in.
“Everybody has ups and downs,” he said after practice. “So, just fighting through and being mentally tough is the only thing you can do. I’m trying to do that and just show that I can be mentally tough on the field.”
Wilkerson will be fighting for his roster life on Sunday against the Giants, but his goals for the game are not quantifiable in a classic sense. Instead, he said that he would just hope to show the team that he can be of service.
“Just show that I can help the team win, and doing my best out there to help my teammates be a good teammate,” he said.
The kickers have a quiet day
New England is alternating kickers at the moment, with Nick Folk taking kicks on Monday and Wednesday, and Quinn Nordin doing the same on Tuesday and Thursday. The undrafted rookie and his veteran counterpart, however, had a quiet day. While Folk did not attempt any kicks, Nordin made just one. He did split the upright on an extra point, but other than that was not called into action.
In fact, the Patriots and Giants focused more on onside kicks than place kicks. Kickoffs and onside kicks are of course handled by All-Pro punter Jake Bailey.
Bill Belichick explains the use of the Patriots’ famous hill
The Patriots’ focus on fundamentals is well known, and it extends beyond technique into the strength and conditioning program as well. One of the most famous manifestations of this is the hill behind the practice fields that is regularly used by the team for post-practice sprints.
On Thursday, Bill Belichick was asked about the hill and explained its usage.
“That’s a training technique that’s been used for quite a while,” he said. “I had a hill in Cleveland. Ran hills as a player. Ran hills where there were hills, and it has certain training benefits. There are multiple ways to train, but that gives you certain benefits, and when that’s combined with other things, other methods of training, I think it just helps build the overall conditioning of the athletes.
“There are multiple ways of training on a hill, but ultimately there are a lot of different conditioning factors that a team needs. I think that that helps us prepare in some areas, not all.”
The Giants, led by ex-Patriots assistant coach Joe Judge, took to the hill after Wednesday’s practice. Judge’s former boss was asked about benefits of running the hill the next day.
“Well it’s hard. Nobody’s going to be at top speed running up the hill, so there’s not as much of a speed element to it as there is working against the incline. Running in different directions and so forth,” Belichick said.
“The number, the incline, the type of running that you do on the hill and so forth. There’s a lot of different ways to train. I think there’s value in all of those as long as they’re combined with other methods of training. Strength, power, endurance explosion, speed. It’s a combination of things. That’s just one way.”