The New England Patriots returned to work on Wednesday, holding their second of three mandatory minicamp sessions on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. The normal offseason rules — e.g. no contact, no full pads — applied once again, but the session itself was still a rather eventful one despite its relatively toned-down nature.
With that being said, let’s collect the reports coming out of Foxborough to recap what happened during the two-hour session.
Absent: DT Byron Cowart, DT Carl Davis, K Nick Folk, OL Chasen Hines, K Quinn Nordin, OL Andrew Stueber
Limited: TE Hunter Henry, CB Marcus Jones, TE Dalton Keene, WR Jakobi Meyers, RB James White
Returned: WR Kendrick Bourne
The Patriots’ attendance list saw some changes on Wednesday. As noted by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne returned after missing Monday’s session. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Carl Davis joined the list of absentees to keep the total number of player not spotted at six.
A handful of players was again limited during the session, with rookie cornerback Marcus Jones once again donning a red non-contact jersey. The third-round pick underwent surgery on both his shoulders since last December and is still in the process of recovery.
The Mac Jones-Tre Nixon connection looks impressive: Sophomore quarterback-receiver pairing Mac Jones and Tre Nixon had the play of the day on Tuesday and followed it up with an impressive outing on Wednesday as well. The New England’s starting quarterback and the former seventh-round pick connected several times for sizable gains: they had connections of roughly 25 and 35 yards down the sideline and on a seam route from the slot, respectively.
Furthermore, they again made the biggest play of the day. Jones dropped a 60-yard over-the-shoulder throw right into the bucket, with Nixon making an impressive one-handed catch despite some tight coverage by cornerback Jonathan Jones. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the Patriots’ quarterback ran down the field in excitement while pumping his fist in celebration.
Obviously, minicamp performance has to be taken with a grain of salt. That said, Nixon appears to be trending in the right direction and is developing some good chemistry with his quarterback.
Mac Jones’ deep ball catches the eye: From a completion/incompletion perspective Jones was not quite as automatic as he was on Tuesday, but make no mistake: he had another very good outing, especially when throwing deep. Besides the throws to Tre Nixon mentioned above, he also had a 40-ish-yard completion to Nelson Agholor down the left sideline, with the wideout diving to haul in the throw over rookie cornerback Jack Jones.
The Patriots’ second-year QB did all that despite wearing a brace on his left knee. However, he “didn’t appear bothered by it,” according to Phil Perry:
Mac Jones had a brace on his left knee today. Didn’t appear bothered by it, but a change from yesterday. pic.twitter.com/BEmSJcn2kj— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) June 8, 2022
In total, Jones went 19-for-24 between 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills with an interception on a throw intended for Kendrick Bourne. That pick might have been partly on Bourne, though, who slipped on his route and was only able to deflect the pass into Malcolm Butler’s hands rather than reel it in.
As for the other quarterbacks, they had solid days as well considering the context of these workouts. Brian Hoyer went 8-for-9 in team drills, with rookie Bailey Zappe completing 10 of 13 throws with an interception by Jack Jones against Kristian Wilkerson.
No changes at offensive tackle: For the second straight practice, the Patriots used Trent Brown as their top-tier left tackle, with Isaiah Wynn on the right end of the line. Between the two, the spots remained unchanged as well: Cole Strange, David Andrews and Michael Onwenu filled the starter-level positions along the interior O-line.
Offensive play-calling duties a join venture yet again: With Bill Belichick spending virtually the entire session talking to Utah State defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda, per the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan, the offense was led by two familiar faces: Joe Judge and Matt Patricia again shared play-calling duties. Judge appeared to be the leading voice during 7-on-7s, with Patricia taking over when the team moved to 11-on-11 work.
Jonnu Smith continues his solid minicamp: Getting more out of high-priced free agency acquisition Jonnu Smith in his second year appears to be one of New England’s priorities in 2022. So far, it looks like the tight end is answering the call. After what was already a solid day on Tuesday, he had another good outing on Wednesday as well.
His personal play of the day came on a fade from Mac Jones. Smith high-pointed the ball perfectly to make a leaping reception over safety Kyle Dugger.
Rookie Jack Jones makes some impact plays: The Patriots’ fourth-round draft pick had an eventful day, seeing some starter-level reps opposite Jalen Mills. As noted above, he registered an interception on a Bailey Zappe throw intended for Kristian Wilkerson during a scout team period; the youngster furthermore forced a fumble on a pass to Nelson Agholor.
On the flip-side of things, Jones was beaten on a deep pass by the Mac Jones-Tre Nixon duo and also was shaken up on one punt return drill. The young DB returned quickly, however, and overall can feel good about the opportunities he was given.
Patriots invest some time in special teams work: New England spent some time working on punts and kickoffs. Wide receivers Kendrick Bourne, Malcolm Perry and Tre Nixon as well as cornerback Jack Jones served as the punt returners; Bourne and Perry had to run laps after muffed catches, per NESN’s Zack Cox.
Kickoff return duties were shared by wide receiver Ty Montgomery and rookie running back Pierre Strong.
The Patriots will return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Thursday for their third and final minicamp session. Once again, practice is scheduled to be kicked off at 11:45 p.m. ET and expected to run for roughly two hours.