The New England Patriots returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, holding their second straight session of the week. There was one major difference between Monday’s and Tuesday’s, though: the Patriots put on full pads in between, giving session No. 6 a distinct “real football” flair that the previous five missed.
Needless to say there are plenty of players worth taking a closer look at, as always neatly categorized into winners and losers.
Winner: QB Cam Newton
On Saturday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reaffirmed Cam Newton’s status as the team’s starting quarterback. On Tuesday, Newton looked the part.
The former league MVP, who is entering his second season in New England, went 11-for-18 in competitive team drills and seemingly is starting to pull away in the race for the starting quarterback position he also held in 2020. Sure, Belichick himself said that one practice alone does not make a starter, but Newton looked impressive during Tuesday’s session.
He rose to the occasion with pads being put on and delivered probably his best practice of the summer. Furthermore, he saw more quality reps with the starting unit than rookie Mac Jones. A lot can still change over the coming weeks, but Newton is well on his way to keep the QB1 spot for now.
Loser: QB Mac Jones
Rookie growing pains always had to be expected with Mac Jones, and Tuesday was just that. Coming off back-to-back impressive outings, the first-round draft pick seemed to have a hard time adapting to the speed of the NFL game in his first fully-padded practice at the professional level.
Jones went only 1-for-6 in 11-on-11 drills and also fired his first interception in a competitive team setting. He seems to have lost Ja’Whaun Bentley during drop back into coverage and fired the pass directly to him instead of intended target Kendrick Bourne. Jones then got lucky that another interception was dropped by second-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings.
All in all, there is a lot the youngster can learn from Tuesday’s practice. How he will respond to adversity could very well be a determining factor when it comes to the Patriots’ starting quarterback position this season.
Winner: LB Matthew Judon & LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
The Patriots’ linebacker group had a good day, with two of its members standing out in particular: Matthew Judon and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Judon came as advertised with his abilities to set a stout edge and contribute as a pass rusher. The first-year Patriot, who was signed to a four-year contract in free agency, registered three run stuffs during team drills and also had an impressive win in a pass rushing/blocking drill versus starting tackle Trent Brown.
Ja’Whaun Bentley, meanwhile, can now claim back-to-back interceptions off both Cam Newton and Mac Jones. On Tuesday, he fooled Jones by faking a blitz only to drop back into a passing lane and pick off a throw intended for Kendrick Bourne. Bentley also had a stuffed run during team drills.
Winner: DT Christian Barmore
He later had to leave practice with an apparent foot injury, but Christian Barmore was unblockable during 1-on-1s. Showing the quickness that made him the first defensive tackle off the board during this year’s draft — the Patriots traded up in the second round to grab him — the Alabama product made life hard for whoever lined up on the opposite side of him.
In total, Barmore had five 1-on-1s. He won them all, beating starting center David Andrews in the process as well as bubble players R.J. Price, Alex Redmond and William Sherman (twice).
Loser: The backup offensive tackles
Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown have a firm grip on the starting offensive tackle spots, but the swing/backup roles behind them are up for grabs. On Tuesday, no frontrunner emerged. Yodny Cajuste and Korey Cunningham stood no chance against Josh Uche during 1-on-1s, while Justin Herron was beaten decisively by rookie Ronnie Perkins.
Winners: WR N’Keal Harry & WR Nelson Agholor
New England’s wide receivers were challenged at the line of scrimmage for the first time all offseason, and N’Keal Harry and Nelson Agholor adapted well to the challenge.
Harry was able to take advantage of his size and physicality during 1-on-1 drills, making a pair of back shoulder catches despite being closely guarded by Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams; he also caught a fade versus Michael Jackson. While he did not have a catch in an 11-on-11 setting from either quarterback, he did look good on Tuesday.
As for Nelson Agholor, the high-priced free agency addition continues to make standout plays. On Tuesday, he caught a 50-yard touchdown from Cam Newton on a corner route versus Kyle Dugger. While the catch was Agholor’s lone reception during 11-on-11s, his big play ability was on full display yet again.
Loser: CB Joejuan Williams
Joejuan Williams had one pass breakup on a throw from Mac Jones intended for Kristian Wilkerson during team drills, but he also had a hard time during his 1-on-1s. Williams lost all four of his reps: he was beaten by N’Keal Harry on a back-shoulder corner route, by Nelson Agholor on an out, by Jakobi Meyers on a quick slant, and by Isaiah Zuber on a dig.
While 1-on-1s alone do not tell the whole story of a player’s success and favor the pass catchers over the defenders, they are symptomatic for his inability to live up to his second-round draft status.