Thursday’s practice was a rainy affair for the New England Patriots, but despite the challenging conditions produced some noteworthy moments. The team returned to a full-pads setup after wearing shells on Wednesday, after all, and the eighth session of its 2021 training camp was therefore again rather physical.
With that said, let’s take a look at who stood out for better or worse.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
Mac Jones looked very much like the rookie that he is during the Patriots’ first full-pads practice two days ago, but he was considerably better on Thursday. The first-round draft pick went through his progressions quicker and with more confidence, and along the way also threw some accurate passes and showed some good pocket movement.
Jones finished the day having completed 12 of 17 throws in competitive team drills. He was not perfect — he went just 2-for-5 in 11-on-11s versus New England’s starting defense — but he still put together a solid performance for the second straight day.
Winners: LT Isaiah Wynn & LG Michael Onwenu
Whether it was 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 blocking drills, or full team work, the left side of the Patriots’ starting offensive line stood out on Thursday: Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu were the two best linemen on the field and had impressive reps either individually or alongside each other.
Wynn was able to stone-wall Deatrich Wise Jr. during his lone 1-on-1 rep and continued to show the combination of flawless technique and power that has made him one of the most intriguing young offensive tackles in football despite a significant injury history. Onwenu, meanwhile, appears to be well on his way to make the famous second-year jump, winning all four of his 1-on-1s on Thursday.
The left side of New England’s line has immense potential, and it was on full display during training camp practice No. 8.
Loser: CB Michael Jackson Sr.
The competition for spots on the outside cornerback depth chart appears to be wide open at the moment, partially because no contender has distinguished himself in practice so far. On Thursday, Michael Jackson stood out for all the wrong reasons: the second-year Patriot was beat on corner routes by both Tre Nixon and Marvin Hall during 1-on-1s; he also drew a flag and was beaten by Isaiah Zuber during 7-on-7 work.
Winner: TE Jonnu Smith
The Patriots invested considerable resources to bring Jonnu Smith on board earlier this year, and on Thursday he again showed why they felt comfortable doing that. While the free agency addition caught only one pass during team drills, he was still able to make one of the best individual plays of the day.
Participating in a 7-on-7 drill featuring the offensive line and tight ends versus the defensive front seven, Smith was able to decisively drive second-year linebacker Josh Uche out of the play. He combined perfect hand usage, balance, pad level and footwork during the drill, showing that he can be more than a receiving tight end: the 25-year-old is the complete package and should be able to help New England’s offense in more ways than one.
Loser: K Quinn Nordin
Incumbent place kicker Nick Folk sat out Thursday’s session for undisclosed reasons, leaving Quinn Nordin as the only player left at the position. The undrafted rookie was unable to take advantage of the opportunity, though.
While it was hard to accurately chart which of his kicks made it through the uprights during a kicking period at the end of practice, he appeared to go 6-for-8 from our point of view. He pushed one wide left and another wide right, while a third kick banked in off the right upright.
Winner: DT Carl Davis
Carl Davis had some good moments last season before a concussion effectively ended his 2020 campaign. After getting re-signed on a one-year deal in free agency, he had his best practice to date on Thursday. Davis won all four of his 1-on-1 reps and also stood out during the aforementioned 7-on-7 drill featuring blockers and front seven defenders going at each other.
While still being used primarily on the scout team defense, the 29-year-old did his job whenever called upon. Based on this performance, he appears to be a realistic candidate to earn a rotational backup role along the interior defensive line this year.