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Patriots training camp notebook: Jonnu Smith looks primed for a breakout year

Related: Patriots training camp notebook: N’Keal Harry steals the show on Day 7

NFL: AUG 05 New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The pads came back on for the second “real” football practice of training camp on Thursday at the extremely wet Gillette Stadium. With just one week until the New England Patriots’ first preseason game versus the Washington Football Team, the intensity was raised during practice despite the conditions.

Before the team moves inside Gillette for Friday’s practice, let’s empty out today’s Patriots Training Camp Notebook.

Attendance

Absentees: CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP), DT Bryon Cowart (PUP), QB Jarrett Stidham (PUP), LB Chase Winovich (PUP), TE Dalton Keene (PUP), TE Devin Asiasi (Covid-19), LB Cameron McGrone (NFI), S Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI), OL Ted Karras (injured), LB Raekwon McMillan (injured), DL Akeem Spence, DL Christian Barmore, K Nick Folk, WR Devin Ross, ST Cody Davis, DB D’Angelo Ross

Returnees: N/A

Injuries

S Adrian Colbert: Colbert was spotted leaving practice early with a team trainer.

Takeaways

Quarterbacks: Is was a much better performance from the rookie Mac Jones with pads on on Thursday. Despite the poor conditions, Jones was quick with his reads and threw with much better accuracy. Seeing an extended stretch of snaps in 11-on-11 work again — a majority of the period against the scout team defense — Jones had impressive throws to N’Keal Harry up the seam and Kristian Wilkerson on a corner route.

While Jones still has a lot to learn, but one play stood out on Thursday that showcased his growing command of the offense. In an 11-on-11 sequence, Jones alerted his half back of a blitzing linebacker and fired off a slant to Harry to beat the rush. Jones noted after practice that he is “finding his voice” at the line of scrimmage.

An aspect of Jones’ game that continues to stand out is his movement within the pocket. While he is certainly not the threat of Cam Newton with his legs, Jones looks extremely comfortable moving in the pocket, avoiding rushers to buy extra time. Again, it’ll be interesting to see how that translates over to live pass rushers in preseason action.

Speaking of Newton, it was another light day of throwing for the veteran. Newton threw just two passes against the opposing starters in 11-on-11s. His best throw of the day came in 7-on-7 work where he found a tightly covered Jonnu Smith up the sideline.

For those interested in the passing numbers, Jones finished 11-of-16 with two drops, while Newton went 5-of-11 in 11-on-11 work.

Jonnu Smith compares to an old Patriots tight end: It’s been well documented the Patriots have had basically zero production from the tight end position since the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. After signing Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in free agency, they hope that quickly changes.

Throughout training camp, Smith has been a versatile chess piece for New England’s offense — being used in similar ways to an old No. 81 who use to line up next to Gronkowski. His speed and yards after the catch ability are hard to ignore, while he also isn't afraid to get into it in the trenches. He had perhaps the best run blocking rep during a run period on Thursday, destroying linebacker Josh Uche off the ball.

Conditions make an impact: “If it rains, it rains. If it doesn't, it doesn't...” Bill Belichick explained before taking the field Thursday morning. Well, it certainly rained and the affects were felt. Almost every Patriots pass catcher had a case of the dropsies, as Nelson Agholor, Marvin Hall, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Kristian Wilkerson, James White, and Kendrick Bourne (2) all saw passes slide through their hands throughout the day. Agholor also lost his footing in a 1-on-1 rep and slid to the ground.

Besides the receivers, Mac Jones also fumbled a snap from Marcus Martin in run blocking drills. Both players were sent on a lap. Jones lost another ball in warmups as well.

Offensive line dominates: The Patriots starting offensive line projects as one of the best units in the league and they played like one on Thursday. The new combination on the left side of Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu dominated the opposition throughout the day, while David Andrews and Shaq Mason looked as solid as ever manning the middle and right guard position.

Trent Brown, who was sent on a penalty lap for a false start, was impressive in 1-on-1 pass rush drills, going 2-0 against Matthew Judon. The Patriots will certainly lean on the strength of their offensive line throughout the season, which makes there strong start a promising sight.

Ja’Whaun Bentley continues strong week: With a new and improved front seven, Bentley appeared to be one player who would be fighting for snaps at the linebacker position. The linebacker has not been known for his coverage skills throughout his career, but hauled in interceptions in back-to-back practice Monday and Tuesday. Bentley had yet another impressive showing on Thursday recording a pass breakup in coverage.

The 6-foot-2, 255 pound linebacker also forced a fumble against David Wells in 1-on-1 drills. It’s been a strong start to camp for Bentley who will look to continue to stack impressive days together.

Other notes

  • J.C. Jackson continues to lock down Patriots’ wide receivers. After recording an interception and pass break up yesterday, Jackson broke up three more passes Thursday morning.
  • Myles Bryant got his revenge on rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson. After Stevenson loudly ran over Bryant in Wednesday’s practice, Bryant dropped the 227-pound Stevenson for a loss behind the line of scrimmage in 11-on-11 drills.
  • As the Patriots brought in several new bodies on their defensive line this offseason, Carl Davis is fighting for playing time and a roster spot. He did himself a favor Thursday, going 4-0 in 1-on-1 pass drills.
  • With Nick Folk sidelined, undrafted free agent Quinn Nordin handled the kicking duties to conclude practice. It was a good test for the former Wolverine in the inclement weather and Nordin finished 6-for-8 overall. He pushed one wide left, one wide right, and banked one in off the right upright.
  • Former Patriot safety Patrick Chung was in attendance this morning. The 11-year vet officially retired from the NFL this past offseason.

That is all for today’s Training Camp Notebook. Make sure to follow @iambrianhines and @patspulpit on Twitter for all your training camp updates!