With the calendar being turned from July to August, the New England Patriots will increase the intensity of their training camp. After four competitive but ultimately offseason-like practices last week, they will put on the pads for the first time on Monday morning.
Before that session is kicked off, and with it the full camp experience, let’s take a look back at the week that was. Despite being rather light in nature, it did teach us a few things about the 2022 Patriots after all.
1. The Mac Jones-DeVante Parker connection is off to a promising start. Mac Jones has looked solid during the first four sessions of camp, despite the defense also coming to play. One connection in particular proved itself to be fruitful: the one with offseason trade acquisition DeVante Parker.
The former Miami Dolphins first-round draft pick, who was brought aboard in early April, projects to play a prominent role as an outside receiver in New England’s offense this year. So far, he and Jones have already been building a solid relationship — one that resulted in some impressive touchdown catches during what was mostly red area work.
2. The cornerback group is looking better than advertised. The Patriots’ biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball entering this year’s camp was the quality of their cornerback group. The team has a J.C. Jackson-sized hole to fill on the outside opposite last year’s CB2, Jalen Mills, and did not add a clear replacement to the roster throughout the offseason.
Four days into camp, it appears that Terrance Mitchell might be the frontrunner to take over Jackson’s former spot in the lineup. The veteran, who came aboard via a one-year free agency deal, regularly was the first man up at the position and held his own whenever tested. At this point in time, he appears to be ahead of Malcolm Butler, Jack Jones and Joejuan Williams.
In general, though, the Patriots’ cornerback depth has looked good. While Butler has not had a major impact yet, and Williams continues to not live up to his draft status, the group as a whole appears to be deeper than last year’s — in part because players such as Shaun Wade and Marcus Jones have also had some solid moments in the slot.
3. Matt Patricia is the frontrunner to serve as offensive play caller. Coaching the Patriots offense in the post-Josh McDaniels era will be a community affair, with Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge all involved. Belichick will be overseeing operations from his head coaching position, while Judge is working closely with Mac Jones as the team’s quarterbacks coach.
Patricia, meanwhile, is listed as offensive line coach but he also looks like the frontrunner to serve as play caller. The long-time defensive coordinator, after all, has been in charge of the walkie-talkie throughout all four days — presumably to send signals to Jones and the offense. Patricia has play-calling experience, but it stems exclusively from the defensive side of the ball.
Still, it looks like Belichick trusts him to run the show on offense now at least from that perspective.
4. Jonnu Smith is starting to hit his stride. The Patriots made a massive investment in Jonnu Smith last offseason, but he was unable to meet expectations after signing a four-year, $50 million contract. Coming off a relatively quiet year, it now looks like Smith might finally be starting to hit his stride and make the famous sophomore jump.
The 26-year-old has had a good training camp so far, making a few highlight-reel catches. With Smith developing nicely and fellow tight end Hunter Henry continuing to look good, New England’s offense might be able to add another dimension that it was lacking last year.
5. The offensive tackle arrangement might be permanent. The first practice of mandatory minicamp in June raised some eyebrows because it saw the Patriots made a switch at the offensive tackle positions: Isaiah Wynn was sent from the left to the right side, with Trent Brown moving in the opposite direction. At this point in time, it looks like the arrangement will stick.
Brown noted that he feels “at home” at left tackle, while Wynn went with the “I will be wherever they need me to be” answer when asked about the switch during minicamp. How successful the two will be in their new spots remains to be seen, with full-contact practices set to give us a clearer picture.
The offensive line as a whole, however, is expected to go with the same lineup it used during minicamp. Brown and Wynn will man the starting spots at tackle, with Cole Strange, David Andrews and Michael Onwenu the interior three from left to right.
6. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan are the starting off-the-ball linebackers. Next to cornerback, the linebacker spot faced the biggest uncertainty heading into camp. Four days in, we have a clearer picture of the position: Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan will likely serve as the top off-the-ball options, with Mack Wilson offering speed as a sub option on passing downs.
Bentley and McMillan being the one-two should not come as a surprise. Bentley is the unit’s elder statesman with Dont’a Hightower still unsigned, while McMillan already looked headed for a starting gig last summer before a torn ACL ended his first season as a Patriot.
7. The offense is far from a finished product. New England’s offense has had some good moments in camp so far, with the players mentioned above — Mac Jones, DeVante Parker, Jonnu Smith — in particular making positive contributions. On the whole, however, the unit remains a work in progress and has had a few disappointing series against the defense.
Friday and Saturday were particularly frustrating. Not only did the defense win both days, it also was able to leave Mac Jones visibly distraught with his unit’s performance.
8. Joshuah Bledsoe is fighting tooth and nail to make the team. Second-year defensive back Joshuah Bledsoe would likely have been missing from most pre-training camp roster projections. The former sixth-round draft pick has been one of the surprise standouts of camp so far, however.
Bledsoe missed all of last year due to a wrist injury sustained at the Senior Bowl, but he has seen prominent practice reps wit the starters last week. Serving as a safety and slot cornerback, the 23-year-old has been competitive and made quite a few plays on the ball. Time will tell whether or not he will keep up his momentum heading into Week 2, but the early signs have been promising indeed.
9. The offseason hype trains have slowed down a bit. Throughout the offseason, several members of the Patriots’ roster have been hyped up one way or another. There was second-year man Cameron McGrone, who was projected to play a prominent role within the linebacker group; Josh Uche was called a big part of the defense by both his position coach and his head coach; Tre Nixon and Jack Jones impressed in mandatory minicamp.
Four practices into camp, however, all four have been relatively unimpressive. McGrone is behind Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson on the linebacker depth chart; Uche has not had much of an opportunity to prove himself; Nixon has seen limited reps with the starting offense; Jones is in the same spot albeit on the defensive side of the ball.
Obviously, there is a lot of football left and all four are in a position to make an impact. Uche appears to be the most realistic candidate to do that, but McGrone has recently also been given some starter-level reps.
10. Special teams might be Tyquan Thornton’s path to early playing time. The Patriots did not draft Tyquan Thornton to play special teams, but it might be his clearest path to regular playing time as a rookie. The second-round man, after all, faces plenty of competition at the wide receiver spot but has repeatedly showcased his speed as a gunner on punt coverage.
Don’t be surprised to see him get some live looks at the position in preseason, even though he ideally will make an impact as a pass catcher as well. Realistically, however, he is WR5 at the moment behind Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor.
All of them and the rest of their teammates will hit the practice fields again on Monday. The fifth session of Patriots training camp is set to kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET.