The New England Patriots will hold their fifth straight practice on Friday, and it will be a special one. For the first time all training camp, the team will practice inside Gillette Stadium. The session will be a ticketed event, but one open only to season ticket holders, those on the season ticket waitlist and Foxborough residents.
Still, there will be a lot to keep an eye on. So, with that said, here are three things we will focus on during New England’s ninth practice of camp.
Cam Newton’s accuracy
Incumbent starting quarterback Cam Newton has had some accuracy issues on back-to-back days now. After his best outing of camp on Tuesday, he went just 7-for-13 with two interceptions in competitive team drills the following day before a 5-for-11 performance on Thursday.
Obviously, those numbers have to be taken with a blocking-sled-sized grain of salt, but Newton still did not look as efficient as a passer as he had on previous occasions. His accuracy in particular is an area to watch, given that he had some off-the-mark throws each of the last two days and did not display the same rhythm and chemistry he had on Tuesday, for example.
Nelson Agholor was the Patriots’ best wide receiver during the first week, hands down. Recently, however, he has been comparatively quiet: Agholor did not catch a pass in team drills over the last two days, and he also had only one reception — albeit a 50-yard touchdown — on Tuesday.
There is no reason to ring the alarm bells, but it will be interesting to watch how the Patriots will try to incorporate Agholor again moving forward. After playing a smaller role for most of the week, maybe Friday’s session will see him more active again.
The absentees list
A camp-high 17 players sat out Thursday’s practice, with 5 new names added to the list. The Patriots will get a day off on Saturday, so it would not be a surprise if it remained unchanged heading into the weekend. Nevertheless, we will keep a close eye on any potential returnees or additions to the list.
The 17 players absent on Thursday were as follows: 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, WR Devin Ross. Furthermore, safety Adrian Colbert was spotted leaving Thursday’s practice early with a team trainer.
As for yesterday’s things to watch, here are a few quick notes:
Quarterback consistency: Training camp has been a roller coaster for the Patriots’ quarterback group so far, with neither Cam Newton nor Mac Jones being able to showcase some day-to-day stability in their performance. Thursday was a bit of a change in this area. Newton had some ups and downs for the second day in a row, while Jones looked good on back-to-back days. Obviously, though, you want to see both perform well on a consistent basis.
Outside cornerback performance: While Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are one of the best perimeter duos in football, the Patriots’ depth at outside cornerback behind them is a question mark. Thursday’s practice showed that once again: Jalen Mills appears to be better suited in another role and is a clear downgrade as a CB2; Joejuan Williams continues to have his ups and downs; Michael Jackson struggled for much of the session.
Ball security: While a lot of penalty laps were run on Thursday, ball security was actually solid during challenging conditions. Mac Jones put the ball on the ground twice — once in a ball security drill, once in a botched exchange with center Marcus Martin — but other than that the team looked good. However, there were a lot of drops throughout the session with pass catchers having a difficult time holding onto the wet balls.