Day 2 of the New England Patriots’ training camp is in the books. Despite players again not wearing any full pads it was an eventful affair that served as yet another stepping stone for what lies ahead, starting next week.
As for Thursday, here are few things that caught our eye both before, during and after the session.
DeVante Parker compares the atmosphere in New England and Miami. Offseason trade acquisition DeVante Parker continues to be one of the standout performers of training camp so far. He again proved himself a reliable red zone target for Mac Jones on Thursday, showing some good chemistry with the Patriots’ starting quarterback.
“It’s good to have him, he had a good spring,” head coach Bill Belichick said about Parker ahead of the session. “We’ll just take it day-by-day here and not try to evaluate guys based on one play or one practice or one period. There’s going to be a lot of football played and we’ll see how things turn out over an extended period of time. Consistency and production.”
As for Parker himself, his eighth NFL training camp is different form his first seven. Not only is he learning a new offense with the Patriots, he also is experiencing a different atmosphere compared to Miami’s.
“It’s very different,” he said. “To me, there’s like a million people out here, and it’s awesome having everyone riled up. I love it.”
Through the first two days, Parker appeared to be feeding off the crowd — something cornerback Jalen Mills mentioned as well when talking about the 29-year-old.
“Big energy. Big, tall guy,” he said on Thursday. “I really liked yesterday, [when he] scored the touchdown, he turned to the crowd a little bit. You want to see that from those guys on the offensive side of the ball.”
The mittens are on. At one point on Thursday, DeVante Parker was able to beat Jalen Mills for a back-shoulder touchdown. While Parker’s ability to get his feet down in bounds was impressive, another thing caught the eye: Mills wearing mittens over his hands to prevent him from holding the opposing receiver.
After the session, safety Adrian Phillips spoke about the advantages of using them.
“It makes it a whole lot tougher,” he said. “You know when you get into the game sometimes you might have those refs that might let you play a little bit and you’re going to have some other refs that might call it tight. The pads are just teaching you to master your technique, making it harder on yourself and being able to make the play without having your hands. That’s the fun part... Well, not the fun part about it, the hard part.”
Cole Strange is not concerned about being a ‘reach.’ The Patriots’ 2021 draft was a polarizing one starting from the very first pick they made: guard Cole Strange out of Chattanooga, who was brought aboard with the 29th overall selection. Some prominent pre-draft projections, after all, had Strange as a third-round prospect.
Nonetheless, in the first round he went, which led to some bad post-draft grades. Of course, those do not matter in the grand scheme of things and neither the team nor Strange himself paid any attention to them or the overall discourse surrounding the pick.
“No, we didn’t really care too much about that. We didn’t really pay too much attention to that, honestly,” he said after Thursday’s practice.
“You hear it, but it’s kind of one of those things where it’s like, you just tune it out. Focus on my assignment, my job; don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Two days into camp, Strange continues to serve as the Patriots’ starting left guard — a role he already held during mandatory minicamp. While the pads coming on next Monday will be the next big test for the 23-year-old, he has shown some promise thus far and looks like a plug-and-play starter.
The Mitchell-Wade combo sees prominent action at cornerback. With J.C. Jackson off to Los Angeles and Jonathan Jones still on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots had some holes to fill in their starting secondary. On Thursday, free agency acquisition Terrance Mitchell and second-year man Shaun Wade helped do that.
Mitchell in particular stood out, lining up opposite starting outside cornerback Jalen Mills in Jackson’s former spot for the second day in a row. Whether or not this is a sign of things to come has yet to be seen, but the veteran looked competitive
“Mitch has done a nice job for us, yet another very experienced player, has been in a couple of different defensive systems,” said Bill Belichick before practice was kicked off.
“Some of the things we’re asking him to do are a little bit different, but he’s adapted well. He’s smart, he’s experienced, he’s a good instinctive player and he’s had some good production through the opportunities while we’ve been here, and understanding what those are and aren’t. We’ll see how that goes when we get the padded training camp practice going.”
Mitchell’s running mate these last two days also spoke highly of him, and the offseason additions in general.
“It’s been great,” Mills said. “Those guys came in in the offseason, OTAs, were here most of the days. Just competing with those guys, seeing their work ethic, seeing they’re big guys, coming in, working each and every day, that’s what you want.”
Malcolm Butler wants to be an open book. Another cornerback added this offseason was Malcolm Butler, the former Patriots rookie free agent turned Super Bowl hero. Butler had originally left after the 2017 season and after stints in Tennessee, Arizona and on the NFL’s retirees list is now back.
Butler returning to his Pro Bowl form would be good news for New England, but even if he fails to do that he can be a valuable contributor simply due to his experience and leadership potential. On Thursday, he spoke about just that.
“I lead by example. I don’t talk as much, I rather lead by making plays and things like that,” h said.”
When asked about his role as a potential tutor for rookie cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones, he called himself an “open book.”
“I had a few words with them. I told them, like, ‘You’re going to have good days; you’re going to have bad days; just keep working,’” Butler said. “I told them they have potential, trying to help the young guys out. I can go to them, they can come to me. I’m an open open.”
As for his return to New England four years after a controversial departure, his choice of words said it all.
“It feels natural. It feels like home, which... it is home.”
Kody Russey is getting his shot with Mac Jones. With center David Andrews still on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots’ backups at the position saw increased action alongside starting QB Mac Jones the last two days. While James Ferentz was the first man up, undrafted free agent Kody Russey also received a chance.
Russey remains a bubble player at this point in time, but Andrews’ absence has opened a window of opportunity for him to develop some chemistry with Jones and prove his value.
Adrian Phillips thinks that Hunter Henry is a beast. One of the best plays of the day came when tight end Hunter Henry was able to climb the ladder to make a twisting touchdown reception over safety Kyle Dugger. Henry displayed his impressive reach and hands on the play, two qualities that make him a tough cover for any safety.
Just ask Adrian Phillips. The veteran, who is entering his third year in the system, spoke highly of the 27-year-old on Thursday.
“He’s a balanced tight end with some of the best hands in the NFL,” Phillips said. “You have a guy, he can make every route look the same. He can switch it up, he can do whatever he wants. That’s what makes him a tough cover. ...
“He’s smooth and he’s a guy that continues to critique his game. Just work hard, that’s why it’s a battle every time we’re out there. You know when you line up against him what he’s going to bring. I think he’s a beast, that’s why I call him ‘Beast.’”
By the looks of it, “Beast” will once again play a prominent role in the New England offense this year.
Matthew Judon, man of the people. To end on a light not, let’s go back to the beginning of Thursday’s practice and linebacker Matthew Judon interacting with the crowd. The Pro Bowler, who is in his second season as a Patriot, played some catch with the fans before the session was kicked off.
Matt Judon kicks off Day 2 playing catch with the fans pic.twitter.com/U5kiLhCeL2— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) July 28, 2022
Judon interacting with the fans like that brings back memories of former New England wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. He used to play catch with the crowd ahead of every game during the 2018 season.