The New England Patriots held their 10th practice of this year’s training camp on Monday, with the offensive inefficiency the biggest story coming out of it. The unit struggling for yet another day was only one of the talking points, so let’s open up the notebook and dive straight into what else happened.
Did the Patriots just tip their hand for Week 1? For much of training camp the Patriots went with Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell as their starting outside cornerback tandem. Monday, however, saw some change: Mitchell was bumped from the lineup in favor of veteran Jonathan Jones, with rookie Marcus Jones being inserted into the slot.
Jones has lined up primarily in the slot during his first six years in the NFL, but he has the versatility to play different positions in the secondary; him moving to the outside did not necessarily come as a surprise. It might, however, be a sign of things to come.
The Mills-Jones-Jones starting group, after all, offers some very good speed and might be better equipped to handle some of the offenses the Patriots will face this season. Among them is the first one: the Miami Dolphins, who will host New England in the regular season opener, have some speedsters at wide receiver.
Could the team be countering speed with speed? It certainly would not be a surprise for a game-plan team such as the Patriots.
David Andrews shows why he is a team captain. Following Monday’s disappointing outing, center David Andrews gathered the entire offense around himself for what appeared to be a much-needed pep talk. What exactly was said is not known at this point, but he spoke about his general message during a media availability a few minutes later.
“What I said was what I said,” Andrews noted. “We’re just trying to move forward, try to correct it, and try to come out here and have a better day tomorrow.”
More than anything, though, Andrews calling for the huddle shows his status among his peers. He is a team captain for a reason, and over the last few seasons has established himself as one of the most respected player in the locker room; if he talks, other listen. Now all that needs to happen is for it to translate to the field.
New England’s defense is not worried about the offense. While a lot of the focus is on the offense, the Patriots defense also cannot be left out of the conversation. The unit, after all, has put the clamps on the other side of the ball for much of camp.
According to linebackers Josh Uche and Matthew Judon, that is all the group is worried about at the moment.
“Really all I do, or all you can do as a defensive player, is focus on your task at hand,” said Uche. “You can’t really get too caught up on what everyone else is doing. We’re just here to execute our assignments and leave the coaching to the coaches.”
Judon shared the same sentiment.
“I play defense,” he added. “I don’t really know what to tell you. I think the offense, they had their days and had some success. But we don’t want them to, that’s our job. ...
“They are in control of what they are in control of, and we are what we are. We work and feed off each other. On Sundays we come together as a unit, but right now we’re making the defense better. And every day we come out here that’s our goal.”
James White is like a ‘big brother’ to rookie Pierre Strong Jr. Fourth-round rookie Pierre Strong Jr. started training camp on the rehabbing field but recently has seen an increased workload. 10 training camp practices into his NFL career, the youngster is still trying to find his footing.
“He missed a little time at the start of camp and has come back lately, so he’s a little bit behind,” said head coach Bill Belichick on Monday. “But he’s working hard, catching up. I’m glad he’s out there. I’m glad we’re working with him.”
In order to get up to speed, Strong Jr. is turning to a well-established resource: veteran running back James White.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Strong Jr. said. “He helps me with everything — routes, all the plays — and breaks it down simple for me so I can go out and execute.”
The rookie is one of the potential candidates to help replace White until his return. The team captain, after all, remains on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a season-ending hip injury last September.
Devin Asiasi should not be out long. The Patriots have been lucky with injuries so far this summer, but the bug can bite at all times. Just ask Devin Asiasi, who had to depart Monday’s practice with trainers and did not return. However, the belief is that the third-year tight end, who had been dealing with a hand issue, will not miss any significant time.
Bill Belichick likes where his team is health-wise. Speaking of the Patriots’ physical status, it sounds as if head coach Bill Belichick is quite pleased. Speaking to reporters ahead of Monday’s practice, he pointed to the low number of players on either the physically unable to perform or non-football injury lists as proof of his team being in better shape than last year.
“I feel like our team’s as healthy as it’s ever been at this time of year,” Belichick said. “Part of that has to do with the offseason program, the way guys have worked, and maybe part of it has to do with the way we’ve practiced. But we really have very little in the way of players missing time — players on PUP, NFI, we’ve pretty much cleared that up today.
“Last year, we had six or seven guys in that category. Plus, a variety of things. We try to do what we think is best every year. To try to compare one year to another year is — I don’t know how relevant that is. We look at things where they are and try to make the most of them.”
With sixth-round rookie Chasen Hines returning to practice on Monday, the Patriots have only one player each remaining on PUP (RB James White) and NFI (OL Andrew Stueber). In general, New England has been lucky on the injury front through 10 practices.
Matthew Judon is trying to make practice hard on himself. When he met the media after Monday’s practice, linebacker Matthew Judon was wearing a red hoodie despite temperatures in the 90s. Turns out he is following the example of a former teammate of his, ex-Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The idea behind it is a simple one.
“I’m just trying to make it harder on myself,” Judon said.
“Just trying to sweat and get all the bad stuff out. I’ve seen Terrell Suggs wearing sweatshirts every day in camp. No matter the degrees, no matter the temperature. So, every day I come out here and just try to sweat it out.”
Ja’Whaun Bentley is the leader in the Patriots’ linebacker room. For years, the Patriots linebacker group was led by Dont’a Hightower. The 2012 first-round draft pick was a multi-year team captain, three-time Super Bowl winner and made some of the biggest plays in franchise history.
As of August 9, however, he remains unsigned on the free agency market with no signs pointing toward a return. As a result, somebody had to fill the leadership void created by his departure. That someone appears to be fifth-year man Ja’Whaun Bentley.
“I’m not going to lie, Bent is our leader,” Matthew Judon said on Monday. “8 is our leader and we’re all rallying behind him.”
Bentley joined the Patriots as a fifth-round draft pick in 2018 and played a relatively small role early on in his career, serving primarily as an early-down run defender. By 2020, however, he became a captain: with Hightower opting out of the season, Bentley stepped in. He had an inconsistent season overall, but took a massive leap forward the following year (despite Hightower taking over as captain again).
Now, he is asked to combine his 2020 leadership role with his 2021 performance. Him being able to do that would be good news for New England’s new-look linebacker group.