The Patriots wrapped up the final of their four initial unpadded practices on Saturday, as the team prepares to increase the difficulty next week with the arrival of padded sessions. With the first preseason game against the Giants quickly approaching, the 2022 Patriots are already gathering momentum toward the start of the season.
Despite the lower level of intensity to kick things off, there were still plenty of notable things to be gleaned from the start of camp. The competition continues to tick up, with the defense carrying the play for much of the full team periods so far. But with plenty of time left for the offense to get in gear, Mac Jones and his attack will be looking for a good start to the second week of camp.
Here are five takeaways from the first four practices.
1. Offense finding its footing
Wednesday's opening session was the best of the bunch for the offense with multiple touchdowns from DeVante Parker and others that got the crowd going, but the following three practices were far more uneven for the unit. With extensive work in the red zone and tight throwing windows, the passing offense has leaned heavily into fade passing plays aimed for the back corner of the end zone. Sometimes they've hit, sometimes they've been broken up, but each and every one feels like a 50-50 ball with both sides having a chance to come down with it. Otherwise targets are not getting open, forcing Mac to scramble.
With the advent of pads and the kind of practices that more closely resemble real football, we'll get a much better sense of the offense's capabilities next week, but thus far they look like a work in progress that is still looking for a practice where it starts to really click. Mac was noticeably frustrated as he left the field on Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for an important upcoming week of practices.
2. Stingy defense starts camp
There's of course a flip side to the offense's struggles, which is the consistently scrappy defensive performances. Even with a liberal rotation of players, the defense has gotten the better of the offense through the start of camp, even if the defense did end up losing the final plays of Thursday's and Friday's practices with pushups on the line. Saturday's session didn't see a repeat, as Kyle Dugger's probable pick-six and Marcus Jones' pass defense on a speed out capped off the defense's best day and sent the offense to the ground for pushups.
Is the defense, with multiple new potential starters, legit? Nothing will be more telling than when the pads come on and the real live battles begin on the field. But even with a mix of newcomers and youngsters, the defense has thus far looked ready for what the offense has thrown at them.
3. Surprise standouts
With quite a few starting spots open, it's exciting to see some new faces consistently show up through the early days of practice. Joshuah Bledsoe has broken up multiple passes and been heavily involved, taking advantage of the absence of Jabrill Peppers (PUP). Jonnu Smith put together some of his best work over the last two days of practice, picking up a handful of touchdown catches. Terrance Mitchell has also seen extensive reps at outside cornerback, as he and Jalen Mills appear to top the depth chart at this point, and Raekwon McMillan has been running with the top defensive unit a lot.
Finally, Ty Montgomery is an experienced professional and has flashed in a number of different spots including running back, wide receiver and on special teams. No matter where injuries strike or complications happen, Montgomery seems like a good bet to fill a role.
4. Mac moments
Despite the struggles of the offense early on, it shouldn't overshadow Mac Jones' strong presence in his second season. He looks in command of the offense and is easily the leader of the group. His poise and accuracy continue to shine, especially in passing drills and 7-on-7 periods. Mac wasn't happy with how the fourth practice session went and now all eyes will be on him and the attack to see if they can get over the early hiccups and find their stride. But it's a good early test.
Returning as the starter for his first time since high school, Mac is facing some early challenges to start his sophomore campaign. Expect him to come out locked and loaded for Monday's session after having a full off-day with the bad taste of Saturday's session left in his mouth.
5. Rookies in the mix
While they aren't as flashy as last year, this season's crop of rookies are off to a solid start. The biggest thing is that aside from Chasen Hines and Andrew Steuber, who are both on the NFI list, the top eight picks have all been present every day. There's no quicker way to fall behind than missing training camp time, and so far strides by Tyquan Thornton, Cole Strange, Bailey Zappe and Marcus Jones are apparent. Jack Jones has also defended some passes while the two rookie running backs will truly have a chance to show their stuff when the pads come on. Only Pierre Strong appears to be slightly limited.
Otherwise, the rookies are doing everything they need to do to help build the depth and future of the Patriots. It's unclear how big of a role any of them will have after the first-rounder Strange, a seeming lock at left guard, but it's not hard to see a few of them contributing in some form this season.