With the NFL preseason in full swing, there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days that we did not have time to cover elsewhere: welcome to this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.
What Tyquan Thornton’s collarbone injury means for the Patriots. Second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton saw his encouraging summer come to an early end. The rookie wide receiver suffered a fractured clavicle in the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night and is expected to miss up to 10 weeks.
The injury is an unfortunate one for a player who looked ready to play a sizable role as a rookie. What exactly does it mean for the Patriots, though? Let’s dig a bit deeper.
He is a candidate for injured reserve: With the season opener in Miami only three weeks away, Thornton might be forced to miss the first half of the regular season if not more. Accordingly, the youngster will likely end up on injured reserve with the option to return later during the year. In order for that plan to work, Thornton would have to remain on the roster through the cutdown deadline on August 30.
Another depth receiver might be kept around: Even with Thornton unavailable, the Patriots are deep at wide receiver: Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor would have been the top four at the position even if the rookie had not gotten injured. That injury, however, might now open the door for one of New England’s depth receivers to make the team. Lil’Jordan Humphrey appears to be the frontrunner at the moment.
DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor will be the field stretchers early: Thornton’s straight-line speed and ability to stretch the field vertically would certainly have been valuable to the Patriots, and might come into play later during the season. For the first few weeks, however, that role will likely fall onto the likes of DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor. Neither offers the same speed as the rookie, but both have had a good summer thus far.
The Patriots might dive into the offensive line trade market yet again. The Patriots are no strangers to swinging trades around the NFL cutdown deadline; just last year, they sent away running back Sony Michel while also picking up cornerback Shaun wade and offensive lineman Yasir Durant. Fast forward one year, and another O-lineman being brought in would not be a surprise.
The Patriots, after all, face some questions up front. While the starting lineup appears set — from left to right: Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn — the preseason game versus Carolina showed that the depth especially at tackle is an issue. Brown and Wynn were both absent, as was last year’s OT3, Justin Herron. Durant played only seven snaps after recently dealing with an injury.
The Patriots used Yodny Cajuste as their starter on the left side with Brown out, while they turned to Onwenu at right tackle. With him moving to the outside, James Ferentz took over at right tackle. Needless to say that such a scenario is less than ideal, not just because Ferentz had a forgettable day with the starting lineup.
This, in turn, brings us back to the trade market. Unless Herron returns to the field soon and finds some consistency after an up-and-down performance so far this summer, or if Durant is seen as a suitable backup, the Patriots might just move another late-round draft pick to improve the depth at the position in the coming nine days.
Brenden Schooler is coming for Cody Davis’ roster spot. Texas product Brenden Schooler has been the most impressive member of the Patriots’ undrafted rookie class this summer. Lining up primarily on special teams, he has left a positive impression and might just be coming for the roster spot occupied by veteran Cody Davis the last two years.
Davis has been a core special teamer since joining the Patriots in 2020, but his salary cap hit of $2.3 million — only $500,000 of which tied to guarantees — is significant. For comparison, Schooler is counting only $710,000 against New England’s books at the moment. Economics alone will not be the deciding factor, but they might very well come into play when all is said and done.
Schooler, after all, has not just looked good but was also asked to play a role that was Davis’ since his arrival: personal punt protector. So far this preseason, Schooler has played nine snaps in that capacity compared to Davis’ three.
Reading too much into preseason snap counts is a dangerous game, but the Patriots are obviously trying to get as good a look as possible at Schooler. That alone speaks for his performance since his arrival.
Anfernee Jennings is moving into starter territory. When the Patriots announced their starting lineup against Carolina, two names stood out: Jahlani Tavai at inside linebacker was a surprise, while Anfernee Jennings at outside linebacker — opposite Pro Bowler Matthew Judon — looked like the natural next step after a strong summer.
The former third-round draft pick, who missed all of last year, has looked good on the edge over the last few weeks. The Patriots’ coaches apparently liked what they saw, as did Judon.
“He’s taken what we apply in meetings, in film and everything and he’s using that and using those tools and putting those in his toolbox and he’s using it in the game,” he said after Friday’s game. “He made a couple inside moves. He had a couple nice outside rushes he’s using to get to the quarterback. He’s building on everything and every day in camp. He’s looking really good.”
With Kyle Van Noy getting released earlier this offseason, the Patriots had a void to fill at outside linebacker. Jennings will not be the only player to help replace Van Noy, but he should be a prominent part of the solution especially on early downs.
This week will be the biggest test for the rebuilt secondary to date. The Patriots’ cornerback group will look markedly different from last year’s with Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones the projected starters on the perimeter at the moment, with either Marcus Jones or Myles Bryant in the slot. All of them have fared well so far, but their biggest test awaits: a Las Vegas Raiders team led by Pro Bowlers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow.
How the Patriots play Adams in particular will be interesting to see. In years past, No. 1 cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson would have drawn that and similar assignments. Will it be Mills this year? Or Jones? Or somebody else entirely?
Given the bona fide wide receivers New England will face this season, the joint practices and preseason game in Las Vegas might give us a clue as to how the team views its cornerback group at the moment.
Mac Jones finds motivation in New England’s playoff loss. The Patriots are as forward-focused as any team in the NFL, but that does not mean they cannot use the past as motivation. Just look at quarterback Mac Jones, who was asked on Friday about a picture in his locker from the team’s playoff loss in Buffalo in January.
“I’ve always been a big fan of having motivational stuff in your locker,” Jones said. “My dad actually — the two things that he’s always showed me is the poem ‘Man in the Arena’ and ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Those are the two that are more important to me. But, I’ve always done that, and that’s last year, but I think it’s motivation to just come in here and work every day.
“I do love the two poems a lot. That’s a big shout-out to my dad because he kind of gave me those when I was probably like six years old and kind of explained everything to me, and as I grew, I continued to just enjoy that. Actually the ‘If’ poem was in Wimbledon, so that’s where he learned about it in the locker room in Wimbledon. So, that’s pretty cool.”
New England wants to get as much heat exposure as possible. Even though their preseason opener in Miami is still three weeks away, the Patriots are already trying their best to get as well-prepared as possible for that game. As a consequence, they have decided to fly to Las Vegas early: they will travel on Sunday, practicing all by themselves on Monday before joint sessions with the Raiders the following two days.
The temperature during those three days will jump into the 100s regularly, with the game on Friday projected to be kicked off in the mid-to-high 90s. The Patriots will get a taste of what they will face on September 11.
Danny Etling does it again. Four years ago, then-Patriots backup quarterback Danny Etling had one of the best plays in recent preseason history. The seventh-round rookie fooled the entire New York Giants defense by keeping the football on a naked bootleg instead of handing it off; he took it 86 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Fast forward to Friday night. Now with the Green Bay Packers, Etling was able to score another long rushing touchdown:
While this one was from “only” 51 yards out it was no less spectacular than the run he had against the Giants four years ago. Etling might be a career journeyman, but he sure knows how to make preseason football exciting.