The New England Patriots’ 10th training camp practice is in the books. The team returned to the fields behind Gillette Stadium on Sunday, holding another session in full pads. The practice itself was an eventful one again, with injuries and big plays stealing the headlines.
That said, before we turn our attention to practice No. 11, let’s clean out the notebook from Sunday to shine a light on some under-the-radar storylines.
Meet the Patriots’ third-string center
The Patriots’ center depth was tested on Sunday. With David Andrews having to leave practice due to an apparent hand injury, and with Ted Karras still not cleared for full participation after missing the last six sessions, New England turned to veteran James Ferentz to handle center duties.
Ferentz is in his fifth training camp with the Patriots after re-signing earlier this offseason. HIs experience in the system and ability to play all three interior spot makes him a valuable member of the team — one who could very well make the cut as the second backup behind Karras.
Carl Davis is making a name for himself along the Patriots’ D-line
Carl Davis’ 2020 season was a disappointment, with the former third-round draft pick playing only three games after joining the Patriots. Now fully healthy again, however, he is starting to make a name for himself along the team’s interior defensive line.
While used predominately as a run-stuffing nose last year, Davis has looked good in pass rushing situations as well this summer. According to the man himself, he is just trying to help the team in any way he can.
“The more I can do,” Davis told reporters after Sunday’s practice. “I’m primarily a run defender. I stuff the run. I’m not built like this to pass rush, but I can if I need to. And that’s what I’m just trying to prove right now and to help my team in any way type of way.”
The 29-year-old, who is on his fifth NFL team, later mentioned that improving his pass rush was a priority of his during the offseason. Working out with the likes of Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith, among others, he appears to have taken a step in the right direction.
“That was another part of my offseason training, working on my pass rush with a bunch of pass rushers and guys back home,” he said. “I was in Atlanta and I was doing a lot of training there with pass rushers. Learning how to use my power along with quickness.”
Davis re-joined the team on a one-year contract earlier this offseason, but he has shown some solid upside this summer while receiving more reps with the starter-level defense as well.
The Patriots’ backup specialists are called into action
The Patriots did not just lose their starting center to injury on Sunday, long snapper Joe Cardona also had to leave the session. In turn, the team was forced to turn to its backup players at the position.
Two of them were called upon: tight end Jonnu Smith handled snapping duties early, with defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. later also joining the show. Smith seemed to focus on punt snapping, with Wise Jr. responsible for field goal attempts.
The two were not the only backups called into action. Gunner Olszewski saw some action as a backup holder, with punter Jake Bailey filling in on field goals.
New England’s special teams group wants to keep its 2021 levels
Speaking of specialists, one of the Patriots’ leaders in the game’s third phase also spoke with the media after Sunday’s practice. Justin Bethel, who was re-signed via a three-year extension in March, spoke about the expectations coming off a strong 2020 season for his unit.
The goal, according to the veteran, is to return to the same levels of performance — all while taking advantage of some core players returning.
“I think it’s going good. We got a lot of the core guys back; definitely we got Brandon Bolden coming back and a lot of guys getting healthy,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting. We’re just adding onto what we already had last year. Honestly, we want to keep staying at the level that we were at. And that’s all we can keep doing, just keep working every day to try to get there. I think that’s what we’re doing.”
New England fielded arguably the best kicking game unit in football last season. Led by the likes of Bethel and Matthew Slater, the group saw two of its members get voted to the first All-Pro team: punter Jake Bailey and punt returner Gunner Olszewski.
Yodny Cajuste’s sign of life
After having missed the first two seasons of his NFL career due to injury, Yodny Cajuste appears to be at a crossroads this summer. If he cannot prove himself as a viable swing tackle option behind starters Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, there is no guarantee he will stick on the roster heading into the regular season.
So far this summer, Cajuste has been comparatively quiet. However, the former third-round draft pick had one noticeable moment during 1-on-1s on Sunday: he was able to hold his ground against impressive rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore at one point. Barmore has been a menace, but Cajuste was able to contain him.
Maybe the 25-year-old is slowly starting to turn things around.
Henry Anderson is trying to get comfortable
Adapting to the Patriots’ system has been a challenge for dozens of players through the years, but defensive tackle Henry Anderson is trying his best to avoid the struggle. The goal is to get a grasp of the playbook and perform without any hesitation on the field.
He may not be at that point yet, but he is actively working to get there.
“Just trying to get used to the terminology. I’m still trying to kind of get to the point with the playbook where I don’t have to think about the play that’s being called, and it’s just when the play is called I know exactly what to do without having to think about it,” he said on Sunday.
“It’s good to get these reps. It’s good we’re doing a lot of work. We have a hell of an offensive line that we’re going against every day. It’s been good for both sides of the ball. Continue to work and get better, and continue to get my playbook and continue to get more comfortable within the defense.”
Anderson was among the free agents signed earlier this year to help bolster an interior defensive line that struggled in 2020. Davon Godchaux and Montravius Adams were also added, while the aforementioned Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr. and the aforementioned Carl Davis were all re-signed. Later, the Patriots traded up to select Christian Barmore in the second round of the draft.