The most spectacular play of the New England Patriots’ first mandatory minicamp practice on Tuesday belonged to a pair of sophomores. Quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver Tre Nixon connected on a deep pass that covered 40-ish yards, with the young pass catcher making a leaping reception to haul in the throw.
For Jones, the play was par the course. He is well established as the Patriots’ starting QB and put on a show on Tuesday.
Nixon, meanwhile, is in a different boat. A seventh-round draft pick a year ago, the UCF product spent his entire rookie campaign on New England’s practice squad without seeing any game action outside of preseason.
On Tuesday, however, he played a prominent role in lieu of Kendrick Bourne’s absence — including making the play of the day.
“It was just one of those plays where you know it’s a shot play,” Nixon said. “Your number’s called, so you get a little excited coming to the line of scrimmage. Wherever I can make a play for the team, get some energy to the offense, I’m willing to do it.”
Nixon lined up in the slot on the play, running a corner route versus slot defender Jonathan Jones. The youngster was able to get a step on the veteran, with Jones placing the ball right in front of him to allow for the leaping grab.
The play was Nixon’s best of the offseason — at least of those parts open to the media — and a promising development for an under-the-radar member of New England’s wide receiver group. That group is more than just competition for the 24-year-old however; it also actively helps him improve his craft.
“I just try to take everything in, I try to be a sponge to the older guys,” Nixon said. “They’ve been in this league for so long, like Slater, why would you not want to sit back and watch them? It’s a pleasure watching greatness out there. I just always take as much information, as much reps and try to implement it into my game as well. ...
“That group as a whole, a lot of vets. You just learn so much from them. They all have personalities, you can learn certain releases, how they run a route, how they do a certain technique. I’m blessed to be in this position: older guys leading the way that I can just learn from.”
Looking up to other players for guidance is one thing, actually producing results on the field another. For Nixon, those results have been encouraging at this point in the process: he was actively involved during the two open organized team activities and also spent considerable time with the top-tier offense on Tuesday.
The former late-round draft pick therefore appears to be trending in the right direction, an opinion he expressed as well.
“Everything’s just starting to slow down a little bit,” he said about his second year in the New England system. “I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m still trying to find my role in this offense, but just compared to last year just a little bit slowing down. I’ve got my routine now, I really know how to take care of myself off the field. Like I said, I’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go, but way different from the first year, for sure.”
Despite the prominent opportunities Nixon has recently received, he vowed not to lose focus or get ahead of himself — another lesson learned from the Patriots’ veteran leaders in the wide receiver room.
“I feel like the biggest thing is just to be where my feet’s at,” he said. “I know training camp’s around the corner, and I like to just stay present, in the moment. Just try to make my own role what I can do. It’s easy to, especially in this league, compare yourself to other people or count numbers, but one of the biggest things the older guys tell me is be your own person. Try to make your own role and see what you can do. Be your own guy.”