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Cleaning out the notebook from Day 1 of Patriots-Raiders joint practices

Related: Patriots training camp notebook: New England struggles in first joint practice with Raiders

Las Vegas Raiders Hold Joint Practices With New England Patriots Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders shared the practice fields for the first time this week. The session at Raiders headquarters in Henderson, NV, was challenging one for various reasons — heat, opponent, uneven performance — but it gives the Patriots plenty to dissect and build on.

Obviously, a lot is going on these days so let’s open the notebook one final time to touch on everything not mentioned in Brian Hines’ practice recap.

Facing the Raiders’ receivers is a ‘good test to see where we’re at’ for the New England defense. One week after having considerable success against the Carolina Panthers’ receiving group, the Patriots had a tougher time covering Las Vegas’ assortment of talent. All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams in particular proved himself a tough cover for projected No. 1 cornerback Jalen Mills and the rest of the team.

Despite Adams beating Mills 3-0 in 1-on-1 drills and catching several passes during full-team work, New England’s defense is embracing the challenge.

“That’s one of the better receiving corps in the league,” said cornerback Myles Bryant after practice. “For us to just go out there and to work against them, work different techniques is a good experience for us.”

Bryant primarily went up against Hunter Renfrow, another Pro Bowl-caliber player who is among the best slot receivers in the game. In general, the Patriots had their problems putting pressure on the Las Vegas passing game — even with standout tight end Darren Waller absent from the session.

For safety Adrian Phillips, however, it’s all part of the process.

“I guess they talk about them being one of the best in the league,” he said. “Everybody knows who they have on that side with their top three guys, Davante, Renfrow and Waller. Those guys are massive problems. When you go 1-on-1 against them, more times than not they’re going to win. I think it was a good test for us to see where we’re at and go up against a solid core group like that, and see how they’re working, how they go about their plays.”

Preseason is helping Cole Strange get up to speed. When the Patriots starting offense took the field on Tuesday, the left guard spot was once again manned by first-round rookie Cole Strange. Now in the second set of joint practices in his young career, Strange is rapidly gaining experience.

But while those joint sessions are valuable, center David Andrews believes preseason football might be even more important when it comes to rookie players’ development.

“I think Cole’s doing a great job. Getting a lot of play time in there,” he said. “I can only speak of my rookie year, but I remember playing a lot in the preseason really helped me out because practice is practice. Maybe the speed of the game isn’t as ‘real.’ You’re not really finishing, and things like that. It just gels a little bit more in the games.

“So, I think getting out there in the preseason and play is a great experience and something you don’t really get in college. You just throw it out there Week 1 and see what happens. I thought I really improved over the preseason and I think you constantly improve over your rookie year. Just try to take a step each week, and that’s what we’re all trying to do.”

As opposed to most of the Patriots’ other starter-level players, Strange saw action in both preseason games so far. He played 14 snaps against the New York Giants, followed by 37 versus the Panthers last Friday.

Jahlani Tavai is growing into a leader for the New England defense. The Patriots’ starting defense versus Carolina last week saw Jahlani Tavai fill a starting spot at linebacker. While flying under the radar most of training camp, it appears the former second-round draft pick is a realistic candidate to make New England’s roster when all is said and done.

Ahead of Tuesday’s practice, head coach Bill Belichick was asked about him. Among other qualities, he mentioned his leadership skills.

“Jahlani’s done a good job,” Belichick said. “He came in last year and picked things up quickly. He’s a smart kid, really good football player, can do a lot of different roles: on the line, end of the line, third down, kicking game. He does a lot of things. Did that in Detroit. Did some of that in college, and was able to pick that up.

“Of course this year, it’s different for him, being here in the offseason program, being here from the start of training camp. He’s really developed a leadership role on the team. Really good communicator. He’s done a nice job for us.”

The Patriots’ linebacker group is led by Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson, but Tavai is making a case for the fourth spot on the depth chart — ahead of offseason hype-getter Cameron McGrone.

Myles Bryant is a fan of 1-on-1s. Ask players all over the league and you get a mixed set of emotions when it comes to 1-on-1 practice drills between pass catchers and defenders. Count New England cornerback Myles Bryant among the fans of the drill.

“I like it,” he said. “The quarterback has to throw the ball. It’s not three, four other guys he can throw to. It’s good to just get that repetition.”

Bryant went up against Hunter Renfrow on three occasions on Tuesday. He won one of those drills, with the other two going to the Raiders receiver.

“What’s going through my head is, ‘Don’t let them catch the ball,’” he said about his mindset after practice. “It’s just 1-on-1, everybody’s eyes are on you. It comes down to technique, holding your leverage and doing all kind of different stuff. But I think 1-on-1s are a good drill. A lot of people think it’s offensively emphasized, but it’s just good to go out there and compete. It’s just us two, we’re lined up and we see who wins this rep.”

Rhamondre Stevenson has a ‘great future’ ahead of him. The trip to Las Vegas is a homecoming of sorts for Rhamondre Stevenson, who grew up in the city. Naturally, plenty of eyes are on him at practice — but not just due to his connections to the area: the sophomore running back also projects to take another step in his development and play a prominent role in the New England offense in 2022.

On Tuesday, Bill Belichick was asked about Stevenson’s growth throughout his career. The Patriots’ head coach made sure to point out that it did not just happen from Year 1 to Year 2 in the NFL, but instead started much earlier.

“The last three years for ‘Mondre have been big jumps — from Junior College to Oklahoma and Oklahoma into the NFL,” he said. “Now, in his second year in the NFL, his growth from Year 1 to Year 2 in terms of training, understanding the NFL — what we do, what the opponents do, the pace of the game, the pace of the season, and so forth. He’s just shown a lot of consistent growth over that period of time.”

Beginning his college career at Cerritos College, Stevenson transferred to Oklahoma for his 2019 and 2020 seasons. He was then drafted in the fourth round by the Patriots last year.

Coming off a solid rookie season expectations are high for him, and Belichick seems confident that he can become a productive member of his team.

“Really good football player,” he said. “Does a lot of things well and has a great future in front of him.”