The New England Patriots will be back on the practice fields today for their seventh training camp session, and their fourth in helmets and shells. Wednesday’s practice projects as a lighter one compared to Tuesday’s, though, when the team put on full pads for the first time. Despite the change in setup, we will still get another glimpse at where the 2021 Patriots currently stand with only eight days to go until their preseason opener.
As far as Wednesday is concerned, here are three things we will keep an eye on.
Cam Newton’s momentum
The Patriots’ incumbent starting quarterback had his best practice of training camp on Tuesday and confirmed why he is the frontrunner for the QB1 role at this point in the process. Newton went 11-for-18 in competitive team drills and seemingly is starting to pull away in the competition with first-round rookie Mac Jones.
Heading into Wednesday’s practice the main question is whether or not the veteran will be able to build on his momentum. Newton certainly looked impressive yesterday, but inconsistency has been a major issue for him ever since he arrived in New England last year. Being able to string successful practices together is key if he wants to keep the starting job and play better football than he did last year.
Mac Jones’ resiliency
While Cam Newton stood out during the first full-pads practice of the summer, Mac Jones seemed to struggle with the speed of the game at times yesterday. The youngster went only 1-for-6 in 11-on-11 drills and also fired his first interception in a competitive team setting to linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.
With the Patriots going back to shells on Wednesday and the expected uptick in throwing opportunities, will Jones be able to build some rhythm again? He better shows that he can bounce back after a tough outing if he wants to keep his hopes of starting in 2021 alive.
N’Keal Harry during full-team work
N’Keal Harry was one of the winners of Tuesday’s practice, being able to take advantage of his size and physicality to win all three of his 1-on-1 matchups against defensive backs. When it came to full-team work, however, he was quiet: Harry was targeted just once, with Newton unsuccessfully trying to hit him on a go route up the right sideline.
Through six practices, Harry has caught only 3 of 6 passes from Newton and 2 of 5 from Mac Jones. He has looked good in spurts, but his output in a competitive full-team setting has been nothing to write home about so far. Maybe this changes on Wednesday with the team possibly giving its passing personnel more opportunities.
As for yesterday’s things to watch, here are a few quick notes:
Running back performance: With players now in full pads, the running backs were finally able to showcase their talents. Our focus was primarily on early-down candidates Damien Harris, Sony Michel and Rhamondre Stevenson, and they did not disappoint. Harris and Michel split reps with the first-team offense, with the latter in particular looking impressive on Tuesday and showed some strong burst through the hole. Stevenson, meanwhile, showed his strength when he ran over defensive back Myles Bryant at one point. It was a good first showing from all three of the backs.
Mano-a-mano competitions: The first day of full-pads work already saw some 1-on-1 work, with a few players standing out for better or worse. Rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore looked outstanding during blocking/pass rushing drills, winning all five of his competitions. Josh Uche, meanwhile, gave the backup offensive tackles a hard time with his speed around the edge. As far as wide receiver/cornerback drills are concerned, N’Keal Harry was among the standouts while cornerback Joejuan Williams had a tough outing.
Injuries: With practice becoming more physical due to the addition of full pads and live tackling, seeing more Patriots added to the injury list unfortunately had to be expected. Christian Barmore and linebacker Raekwon McMillan went down on Tuesday, and therefore joined offensive lineman Ted Karras and defensive lineman Henry Anderson on the sidelines. Karras has been out since getting rolled up on Friday, while Anderson left practice on Monday after what appeared to be a hard hit.