The New England Patriots are in the middle of a busy week, but their one-day break between joint practices with the Carolina Panthers and the two teams’ preseason bout gives us a quick breather. It also allows for us to take a holistic look at the action that transpired on the practice fields over the last few days and weeks.
There was a lot of it, quite frankly. From surprise contributors emerging, to some standout performances from veteran players, to competitions evolving and injuries taking place.
So, with the Patriots and Panthers not going at each other today, let’s take a look at where the team is standing in regards to one specific point of view: the camp competitions.
Quarterback: Even though rookie Bailey Zappe has seen some regular action through the first few weeks of training camp and the preseason opener versus New York, he still appears to be behind veteran Brian Hoyer in the competition for the QB2 spot behind starter Mac Jones. Hoyer did miss some time early, but he started last week’s game and has looked more consistent overall.
It still seems likely that all three quarterbacks will make the roster, though. Zappe ending up as a regular game-day inactive would not be a surprise, though, based on the current composition of the group and its camp performance and usage thus far.
Running back: With James White having announced his retirement, the Patriots are turning to Ty Montgomery as their top option in the receiving game. The versatile veteran appears to be on a good way to joining Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson on the roster.
Pierre Strong Jr. will make the roster as a fourth or fifth back and emergency game-day depth, while fellow rookie Kevin Harris might be headed for the practice squad. J.J. Taylor is a bit of a dark-horse candidate: he did look solid in the preseason opener but is clearly behind Harris, Stevenson and Montgomery right now.
Wide receiver: The top five at the wide receiver position are set in stone: DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor and rookie Tyquan Thornton are all locks or near-locks to make the team. The main question at the position is whether or not an additional sixth wide receiver — not counting special teams ace Matthew Slater — will be kept over some extra depth elsewhere.
If so, second-year man Tre Nixon appears to be the frontrunner coming off some solid performances and with added responsibilities in the return game. Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Josh Hammond are mainly around for depth purposes right now, while Kristian Wilkerson’s recent head injury will make it hard for him to leap-frog Nixon on the depth chart.
Tight end: Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are the clear top options at the tight end spot, but the depth behind them is a question mark: none of the three other TEs currently on the roster has really stood out above the rest.
Devin Asiasi has had some good moments early on but recently has had some issues with availability and drops; Dalton Keene missed time before returning earlier this week; Matt Sokol has been mostly quiet but he was tied for the team lead in offensive snaps during the preseason opener. The competition remains alive and well heading into preseason games No. 2 and 3.
Offensive tackle: Trent Brown is not going anywhere, and neither is Isaiah Wynn — at least under normal circumstances. The starting right tackle has missed five straight practices, however, which gave the depth options behind him some added opportunities.
It appears Yodny Cajuste is making the most out of them: the fourth-year man has been more consistent and durable than both Justin Herron and Yasir Durant and might just be on his way to become OT3 behind Brown and Wynn. Rookie Andrew Stueber remains on the non-football injury list and could be looking at a redshirt campaign.
Interior offensive line: Center David Andrews will be flanked by guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu in the starting lineup, but the depth spots behind them are still up for grabs. Veteran James Ferentz appears to be in a good spot as the second center, while Arlington Hambright saw some starter-level reps in practice and showcased his versatility by moving between both guard spots and left tackle.
Those two making the team would not be a surprise at this point. In the meantime, Drew Desjarlais, William Sherman, Bill Murray and rookies Chasen Hines and Kody Russey will be fighting for one spot max as well as the practice squad.
Defensive line/Defensive tackle: Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Lawrence Guy all appear to be locks to make the team at this point, but the Patriots will likely add one or two additional defensive linemen to their active roster to provide depth. Rookies Sam Roberts and LaBryan Ray have looked good, with both showing plenty of promise in the preseason opener.
It appears the two youngsters are competing against each other, end Henry Anderson, and the bigger-bodied Carl Davis, Daniel Ekuale and Jeremiah Pharms Jr. for no more than two spots on the team. At least one rookie making the cut over a more experienced option would not be a shocker at all.
Outside linebacker/Defensive edge: The competition along the Patriots’ defensive edge remains a fascinating one. Pro Bowler Matthew Judon is a lock, but nobody has really stood out and jumped onto the starting spot across from him.
At the moment, it appears that Anfernee Jennings might be the early-down option with Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins as pass rush specialists alongside him; behind those three, rookie DaMarcus Mitchell is a practice squad candidate. Things get further complicated by the versatility of players such as D-linemen Deatrich Wise Jr. or LaBryan Ray, though, who can kick out to the edge if need be.
Off-the-ball linebacker: Ja’Whaun Bentley might have seen some on-the-line action in practice, but most of his snaps will still come as an early-down off-ball option. He is a lock to make the team, as appear to be Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson — both having looked good thus far this summer.
The Cameron McGrone hype train has slowed down quite a bit and he is currently competing for the No. 4 spot behind Bentley, McMillan and Wilson. To get it he would have to successfully fight off at least two if not all three of Jahlani Tavai, Harvey Langi and Nate Wieland.
Cornerback: 14 practices into training camp it appears the Patriots might have found their starting duo on the outside: Jalen Mills has looked like a CB1 all summer, with former slot cornerback Jonathan Jones now having taken over as his running mate on the perimeter. Behind those two, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade and rookie Jack Jones have all had encouraging moments as well.
On the whole, the depth on the outside looks much better than last year even with Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams now on season-ending injured reserve. In the slot, rookie Marcus Jones and third-year man Myles Bryant are competing for the top spot. Additionally, Justin Bethel will make the team due to his special teams prowess while Devin Hafford is at best a candidate for the practice squad.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers will all make the team, no questions asked. Behind them, Joshuah Bledsoe has shown some promise as a versatile nickel back; he appears to be ahead of in-camp pickups Jalen Elliott and Brad Hawkins but is in a similar spot as wide receiver Tre Nixon: Do you keep a fifth safety, or bolster the depth elsewhere?
Another battle to watch is between the special team fraction of the position. Undrafted rookie Brenden Schooler, after all, is in the middle of a very good summer despite being used almost exclusively in the kicking game. His performance might allow him to challenge veteran Cody Davis’ standing on the roster. Even if Davis ends up making the team, if there is one player to keep the Patriots’ undrafted-rookies-on-the-opening-day-roster streak alive, it appears to be Schooler.
Kicker: In what appears to be a case of load management the Patriots still have two kickers on their roster through the first cutdown day. There is no doubt about who will emerge victoriously when all is said and done, though: Nick Folk will be the team’s place kicker for a fourth straight year. Tristan Vizcaino, meanwhile, might make it through to the practice squad to offer depth behind the veteran.
Punter: The Patriots entered training camp with a potential competition at punter on their hands, but they made sure to declare a winner early: Jake Bailey was signed to a three-year extension to keep him around through 2025. With him not going anywhere, it was no surprise to see undrafted rookie Jake Julien get released earlier this week.
Long snapper: Even though New England briefly had rookie long snapper Ross Reiter on their roster earlier during the offseason, his released in mid-July confirmed what was expected to happen anyway. Joe Cardona would keep the job heading into his eighth season with the team.