The Patriots wrapped up their three-day minicamp on Wednesday, putting a finishing touch on what appears to have been a productive spring. Certainly, compared to 2020, this year's edition of the Patriots is far ahead of where they were last season at this time, but there's still a lot of work to be done before that work can translate into wins on the football field.
"I'd say to summarize the spring, it's been a buildup," said head coach Bill Belichick prior to Wednesday's session. "We started with a foundation and a lot of individual fundamental type things and gradually built those into group settings and as you've seen the last couple of days, more team-oriented things, whether it be punt protection and blitz pickup and things like that, that are kind of moving forward that we didn't engage in a couple of weeks ago, wouldn't have been ready to deal with at that point.
"So again, we have a long way to go. We have a lot of things to cover, but at least we've, I'd say gotten a start into the majority of things that at least we started on them, two-minute, red area, third down, special teams units, those kinds of things, so I feel like at least when we get to training camp, will be the first time through on that stuff."
While Belichick consistently stressed that OTAs were all about teaching and preparing the players for the non-stop grind of training camp, it wasn't hard to see the developing storylines around the 2021 Patriots. With a little over a month until training camp, we've got plenty to digest as we approach the long, dead void until late July.
Here are the five key takeaways from the Patriots minicamp and the offseason in general, as the team has begun to take shape.
1. It's on at quarterback
It was an up and down camp for the quarterbacks as Cam Newton capped off the final session with his best performance of OTAs. After a strong start, rookie Mac Jones had one of his toughest days on Wednesday but overall showed a lot to be excited about, while Jarrett Stidham had some of the best throws of all and even Brian Hoyer had a couple of moments when given the opportunity. If training camp is anything like minicamp, it will be a roller coaster that hangs on each day's session at the most important position in football.
The bottom line is that Newton is still atop the depth chart but Jones has made impressive strides through the spring and has flashed potential while Stidham's growing command of the offense cannot be ignored. What it will likely boil down to is consistency, as all of the quarterbacks had good days and bad days, good throws and bad throws. If Newton can bring his Wednesday performance to every training camp practice he should remain QB1, but if Jones and Stidham can find their stride they could both make a push to make things interesting.
2. Tight ends key the offense
Though Jonnu Smith was mostly a spectator during minicamp after it appeared he tweaked his hamstring early in the first session, the talent and depth at tight end were still striking after the last two seasons. Hunter Henry and Devin Asiasi headlined solid minicamp performances, with Henry catching everything thrown his way and Asiasi showing improved athleticism while making a number of downfield catches. Once Smith is back in this group, it should be pretty stacked and that's a good thing because the receiver group was largely inconsistent during camp.
Jakobi Meyers, N'Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski all had good offseasons and have made strides as they head into their third seasons, while free-agent signings Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne showed flashes but still appear to be getting down the offense. While it's easy to see the potential in the tight end group, the receivers are still a work in progress, some of which is tied to the inconsistencies at quarterback.
The tight ends, and running backs for that matter, have plenty of promise and should be the main engine for the offense to lean on, but questions about how good this receiver group can be remain.
3. Defense is loaded with options
Even when the defense divided up into two different units, they had intriguing players all over both fields. It's a testament to their stockpiling of defensive picks in recent seasons as well as an active free agency period that saw them add a number of veterans. How the coaches are able to whittle it all down to their starters and subs will be one of the hardest things to navigate during cutdown periods, but make no mistake, the defense is dripping with potential, with players both young and old.
Up front, there's an array of run stoppers and pass rushers, and they made life difficult on the quarterbacks during OTAs. That's a good thing for a team that needs a quarterback to emerge. For a defense that prides itself on taking a versatile gameplan approach, the Patriots have tons of options to deploy as it's one of their most intriguing defensive units of recent memory.
4. Gilmore status keys secondary
Despite the plethora of options up front, the depth at cornerback is frighteningly thin without Stephon Gilmore locking down the CB1 spot. The team could get by with J.C. Jackson and the versatile Jalen Mills, but they're far more stacked with safeties and inside corners like Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant, than outside corners capable of consistently playing man defense.
JoeJuan Williams should get a ton of reps until Gilmore returns as well, while Michael Jackson and Dee Virgin will also have every opportunity to prove they can be outside cornerbacks who can contribute. But it's hard to see this defense reaching their potential without Gilmore and an extended absence will put a spotlight on a position without many proven NFL options beyond their starters.
5. Vets vs. undrafted kicker competition
With three kickers at minicamp, the team ended most sessions with field goal work and all candidates were pretty consistent. Nick Folk picked up where he left off last season, making nearly all of his kicks, while Robert Aguayo wasn't far behind him. Undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin has the strongest leg of all of them and despite a couple of misses it's hard to ignore how the ball explodes off his foot. Power doesn't matter much without accuracy and that's why this might be one of the toughest roster battles to call.
The end of each training camp practice should be particularly rife with tension as every kick will go a long way toward determining who's the kicker for 2021.