The New England Patriots enjoyed a day off on Sunday, but they will return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Monday morning. While it will be their fifth session of training camp overall, it will be the first with the team in full pads. Needless to say that the session will see an uptick in physicality compared to the first four held either in helmets or helmets and shells.
Here are three things we will keep an eye on.
Offensive linemen and defensive linemen going at each other. Wide receiver trying to shake free against press coverage. Running backs attempting to pass protect versus blitzing linebackers. There will be a lot of one-on-one competition going on on Monday, and it will be fascinating to watch who will look good at this early in the process.
Roster spots will not be won or lost today, but some early momentum can still be built. That is especially true for players on the roster bubble and for rookies trying to get used to NFL-level physicality.
Among that latter group is New England’s first-round draft pick this year, Cole Strange. The 29th overall selection this year will line up at left guard with the starters yet again and get his first taste of what it will be like to block professional defenders.
Running back performance
With full pads finally coming on, the Patriots’ running backs will be able to showcase their talents outside of the receiving game for a first time. While every running back on the roster will be under the spotlight, the two backs competing for early-down snaps are worth keeping a special eye on: Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.
The duo is expected to see plenty of action on Tuesday, with the Patriots traditionally focusing on running schemes on the first day of full pads. While an early frontrunner will likely not emerge just yet, the session will give us a chance to see Harris and Stevenson in a real competitive setting for the first time.
Additionally, the younger backs on the roster will be worth a look as well: J.J. Taylor, Kevin Harris and, should he be cleared for full participation, Pierre Strong Jr.
The Patriots have been relatively fortunate with injuries so far in training camp, with only two players apparently getting hurt at one point. Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. suffered a mystery injury at one point, and had to sit out three practices as a result; quarterback Brian Hoyer was a no-show on Friday and Saturday for undisclosed reasons.
As far as their teammates are concerned, they will be kept a close eye on from a medical perspective. With intensity and physicality increasing on Monday, after all, so could the number of injuries.
Hopefully, the Patriots will be able to make it through the day without any major issues. Naturally, nothing can be ruled out given the nature of the game and the uptick in physicality and competition.
As for Saturday’s things to watch, here are a few quick notes:
Kyle Dugger vs. tight ends: After having a rough go against Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith on Friday, Dugger again had his ups and downs. He was beaten by Henry for a touchdown in team drills but later redeemed himself by catching an interception off of Mac Jones and running it back for a would-be score.
Defensive back usage: The Patriots once again went with Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell as their starting cornerbacks on the outside. In the slot, meanwhile, Shaun Wade was given starter-level reps — something that also was true for second-year safety Joshuah Bledsoe yet again.
Bailey Zappe’s consistency: With Brian Hoyer out for a second straight day, Zappe again served as the No. 2 quarterback behind Mac Jones. And once again, he was inconsistent. The fourth-round rookie went 5-for-9 during 7-on-7s before a 3-for-8 performance in full-team drills. Not all was bad, though, as he also connected with Kristian Wilkerson for a deep touchdown.