The New England Patriots concluded their offseason minicamp activities with two practices this week before Bill Belichick gave the squad an early summer break. While the real competition starts to heat up next month in training camp, the two days of work were still quite eventful for New England.
Despite the competition being dumbed down, it was an extremely impressive start to the year for second-year quarterback Mac Jones. Jones, who often stayed late to work on his deep ball, showcased what appears to be newly found arm strength, highlighted by a 60-yard dime to Tre Nixon. After his rookie season, questions flurried about Jones’ “ceiling” when it came to his arm strength, but it appears he is doing his best to put those to bed. An improved Mac Jones was always going to be the biggest key to the Patriots’ offense taking the next step, and early indications show that’s where they might be headed.
Now, again, it's just two practices in June, but it’s an encouraging first step. For the rest of the minicamp breakdown, let’s hop into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.
@Obese_Gorilla63 With the type around Tre Nixon, could he really contribute?
Besides Mac Jones, Tre Nixon stole the show throughout Patriots’ minicamp. The second-year receiver was heavily featured out of the slot with the starting offense and reeled in a pair of highlight-reel catches both days. It seems Nixon is picking up where he left off last with Mac Jones, as the two rookies showcased a strong connection in training camp. They appeared to build that relationship throughout the season, as Jones mentioned Thursday they often drove to the facility together last year.
So, could the 2021 seventh-round pick actually make the team and contribute? It appears the Patriots are set for fierce competition along the receiver depth chart this offseason, so Nixon and his 4.44 40-yard dash speed certainly will be involved. Even with a Kristian Wilkerson-like performance this summer, it would still be tough to see him crack significant playing time over the likes of DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor. Nixon was seen fielding punts during minicamp, a role that would help him see the field more.
Either way, the progress after a redshirt season is a pleasure to see, especially as the Patriots may be looking for a new slot receiver next season as Jakobi Meyers is set to hit free agency after this year.
@Riley_Longhair Who will be the 4 or 5 WRs to make the 53 man roster?
My early prediction will be DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and Tyquan Thornton (not counting Matthew Slater). Nixon will hopefully then stick around on the practice squad. The real name to watch will be Agholor. With the Patriots in a cap crunch, a strong summer from Thornton could make them comfortable enough to move on from the veteran for salary relief.
@jd_hazel With Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, JJ Taylor, Pierre Strong Jr, Kevin Harris, and Ty Montgomery, all competing for RB spots, which players are looking from the outside in, and who is more primed to be traded??
The biggest question in the running back room is James White, as the 30-year-old back is coming off a season-ending hip surgery. White is a lock to make the roster, but a world in which he starts the season on the physically unable to perform list is out there.
Beyond White, it looks like Kevin Harris and J.J. Taylor are the ones on the outside looking in. The Patriots kept five running backs last year, meaning Harris, Stevenson, White, Strong, and Montgomery are the earlier favorites out of the clubhouse. New England will likely want to keep all seven around in some capacity, however.
@Swirtzy Could Damien Harris see significant decline in snaps/lose his “starting” role this year?
Damien Harris will not see a significant decline in snaps if he’s on the roster, but there is a chance he is not on the roster. Looking at the seven running backs above, strong summers from rookies Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris — along with steady improvement from Rhamondre Stevenson — could force the Patriots’ hand with Harris.
The 25-year-old is up for a new contract at the end of this season, and it’s hard to see the Patriots all of a sudden shelling out significant money at the running back position. If the stars align, Harris could be a player to watch for on the trade market throughout training camp.
@bostoncollege5 How concerned, if at all, are you that Mac Jones is on his 2nd OC/offensive scheme in 2 years? Especially when it is likely the Pats hire an even newer OC within the next few years?
I’m not concerned yet, but the concern grows the longer if they continue down this path. The hope, obviously, is the new “streamlined” offense is a good basis for them to build off of for years and build continuity with Jones.
@winner112346 Which UDFA Will make the roster if any?
My early favorite is Alabama’s LaBryan Ray. The spots across the defensive line are wide open at the moment and Ray enters the league with a prototypical NFL frame.
@Swirtzy What’s the ceiling and floor for the team this year?
I’d say the ceiling is a playoff win, floor is nine wins.
@TortueMinable Are the Patriots the balls?
According to my calculations, the Celtics are, in fact, currently, the balls.
@CynicalPatsFan Was this my last chance to send in a legit question?
Yes, it was. I bet you wish you took advantage of it.
@KiddinLikeJason If the sun is hot why is space cold?
Jared, this has been on my mind for years. Why is the core the hottest part of the Earth but furthest from the sun, while the crust is the coolest but closest? Why is the tallest and closest thing to the sun on Earth covered in snow? Make it make sense.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!