Coming off a physically taxing practice, the New England Patriots will be back on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Monday. While it remains to be seen whether or not the team will stay in full pads or put on a lighter outfit, the session again projects as an entertaining one with the preseason opener only three days away.
With that being said, here are three things we will take a close look at during today’s practice.
The tight end depth
With Hunter Henry among the players to leave Monday’s practice with an injury, and with second-year man Dalton Keene on season-ending injured reserve, the Patriots’ tight end depth is in the spotlight now. With Henry expected to miss some time due to his shoulder ailment, will somebody else step up?
The leading candidate to do that is Devin Asiasi. Returning to practice on Sunday after having missed the first nine sessions of the summer on the Coronavirus reserve list, Asiasi has a golden opportunity ahead of himself to build some momentum heading into Year 2.
Of course, the former third-round draft pick is not the only tight end competing for practice reps alongside TE1 Jonnu Smith. Matt LaCosse, Troy Fumagalli and David Wells are also under contract. LaCosse and Fumagalli have both had their moments so far this summer, so it will be interesting to see how the Patriots opt to use them and the other tight ends while Henry remains out.
The injury list
Henry was not the only player added to the injury list on Sunday. Starting center David Andrews, long snapper Joe Cardona and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins all left the session as well; their statuses remain uncertain as of right now even though there were some encouraging news about Andrews and a “wait and see” report about Cardona.
Not spotted entirely on Sunday was wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who missed practice for undisclosed reasons. He was one of 13 players not participating in the session.
In the meantime, four players returned: the aforementioned Devin Asiasi off the Covid-19 list, as well as defensive tackle Christian Barmore, offensive lineman Ted Karras and wide receiver Devin Ross off some minor injuries. As can be seen, there is plenty of fluctuation and it will be interesting to watch if there are any additional changes on Monday afternoon.
Kristian Wilkerson’s workload
With Nelson Agholor absent, Kristian Wilkerson was given a bigger workload during competitive team drills on Sunday. The second-year man, who spent virtually all of 2020 on New England’s practice squad, responded in style: Wilkerson led the team with 7 catches — 3 on passes thrown from Cam Newton, 4 from Mac Jones.
Can Wilkerson carry his momentum into Monday? That will be one of the biggest questions of the session, especially if Agholor returns or N’Keal Harry sees increased action during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s again. If neither of those happen, though, Wilkerson should get another chance to show the coaching staff that he belongs on the 53-man roster as a potential rotational option at the X spot.
As for yesterday’s things to watch, here are a few quick notes:
Cam Newton’s accuracy: Not including Friday’s de facto walkthrough, Newton entered Sunday’s practice off back-to-back inconsistent performances. However, he rebounded nicely: the incumbent starter went 13-for-16 with an interception during team drills, including a 6-for-6 stretch versus the starters in 11-on-11 work. Newton may have seen fewer snaps than Mac Jones, but he made the most out of them.
Nelson Agholor: Following his hot start, Nelson Agholor had a relatively quiet second week of training camp before being suspiciously absent on Sunday. Instead of possibly seeing him bounce back, we did not see him at all. Instead, N’Keal Harry and especially Kristian Wilkerson stepped up to take on more active roles within the offense.
Quinn Nordin’s momentum: Despite having to work with emergency long snapper Deatrich Wise Jr. late in practice, Nordin appeared to make most if not all of his field goal attempts on Sunday. With incumbent place kicker Nick Folk still absent, the undrafted rookie continued to look good and carry over the momentum he built during Friday’s performance.