After seven weeks of voluntary offseason workouts, the New England Patriots cranked up the intensity on Tuesday: the team held its first of three mandatory minicamp practices, with all but a handful of players on the current roster present. While the session still followed the regular offseason rules — e.g. no full contact, no pads — it was the closest to “normal” football that you will get at this time of the year.
With that being said, let’s take a look at what happened courtesy of Pats Pulpit’s own Keagan Stiefel and other reporters present for the two-hour session.
Absent: WR Kendrick Bourne, DT Byron Cowart, K Nick Folk, OL Chasen Hines, K Quinn Nordin, OL Andrew Stueber
Limited: OT Trent Brown, TE Hunter Henry, CB Marcus Jones, WR Jakobi Meyers, RB James White
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said before the session that the team had a handful of excused players, and five of the 85 players under contract as of Tuesday morning were indeed not spotted. Kendrick Bourne is the biggest name on the list of absentees, but the belief is that he might return as soon as this week (per Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed). Either way, the situation does not appear to be anything to worry about.
As for the limited players, rookie cornerback Marcus Jones wore a red non-contact jersey. The other four players listed above did not go through all drills but it appears the team is playing it safe more than anything.
Mac Jones puts on a show: Offseason workouts always need to be taken with a grain of salt, but it is hard not to feel good about the Patriots starting quarterback after Tuesday’s practice. The second-year man was spectacular, after all, and delivered arguably the most impressive practice since joining the team as a first-round draft pick last spring. In team drills — i.e. 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s — he completed 25 of 26 pass attempts, as charted by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal.
Jones had the best play of the day, when he hit second-year wideout Tre Nixon on a deep pass down the field. He also threw some impressive passes to running back J.J. Taylor and tight end Jonnu Smith beating tight coverage; later, Jones connected with DeVante Parker on a deep completion over Jalen Mills.
As for the other quarterbacks, they were comparatively quiet. Brain Hoyer went 7-for-13 with an interception, while rookie Bailey Zappe finished with a 7-for-11 stat line with a pick as well.
Isaiah Wynn makes his return... at right tackle: With minicamp being a mandatory event, the Patriots saw multiple previously absent players return. Among them was offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, who lined up in a somewhat unusual position: the team’s starting left tackle of the last three years played on the right end of the line; the left tackle spot, meanwhile, was initially manned by Yodny Cajuste and later Trent Brown through the remainder of the session.
Matt Patricia leads the offense, sort of: Once again, the Patriots offense was led by head coach Bill Belichick and assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. With Belichick spending time with the defense and special teams units as well, however, Patricia appeared to take over a lead role not just with the running backs but with relaying information to Mac Jones as well.
That said, Belichick made sure to give Jones some hands-on coaching as well:
Tre Nixon sees plenty of opportunities with Kendrick Bourne out: With starter-level wideout Kendrick Bourne absent for undisclosed reasons, the Patriots gave second-year receiver Tre Nixon some extended time with the starter-level offense. He responded by making the catch of the day over Jonathan Jones; Nixon was able to get a step on the cornerback and made a leaping reception of 40-ish yards down the sideline.
The 2021 seventh-round draft pick did all of that while the man responsible for drafting him was in attendance. Former Patriots research director Ernie Adams, who hand-picked Nixon, watched the session from the sidelines.
N’Keal Harry keeps trending in the wrong direction: Former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry was another player returning to practice after previously being a no-show during voluntary workouts. As opposed to others such as Isaiah Wynn and linebacker Matthew Judon, however, he played a small role. Spending much of the day with the third-string unit led by Bailey Zappe, he saw only one target in team drills from Mac Jones — an incompletion batted down by Jalen Mills.
Matthew Judon sees some off-the-ball action: The Patriots primarily used Judon as an edge defender on the line of scrimmage during his first year with the team. On Tuesday, however, he spent some time with the off-the-ball group as well. Of course, the offseason is a time to try things out, but Judon seeing more action elsewhere would be consistent with the team’s approach to teaching versatility.
As for the other linebackers, a few of them stood out as well on Tuesday. Fellow edge defenders Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins aligned with the defensive line most of the time, while Jahlani Tavai and Cameron McGrone were able to get their hands on the ball during team drills: Tavai intercepted rookie QB Bailey Zappe, while McGrone broke up a Brian Hoyer pass.
Jake Bailey has a leg up in the punt competition: As monitored by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Alex Barth, the battle between the Patriots’ two punters went to the incumbent. Jake Bailey did not only receive more opportunities than rookie Jake Julien, he also posted a better general hang-time. Whereas Julien did not have a single punt of a five-plus-hangtime, Bailey had four of them.
New England uses several punt returners: Three players were used on the other end of the punt return game, per NESN’s Zack Cox, all of them defensive backs: Kyle Dugger, Myles Bryant and rookie Jack Jones (who had a muff). After practice, wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Malcolm Perry also did some work in the punt return department alongside rookie cornerback Marcus Jones.
Tampers flare late during the session: Despite contact being strictly forbidden players did get close to one another at one point. Following a pass breakup by Terrance Mitchell on Nelson Agholor, rookie offensive lineman Cole Strange jumped at linebacker Matthew Judon’s legs to recover the possible fumble. New England’s defense as a whole took exception to the play and verbally went after Strange.
The Patriots will return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday for minicamp session No. 2. Once again, practice is scheduled to be kicked off at 11:45 p.m. ET and expected to run for roughly two hours.