The Patriots took to the lower practice field on Monday, a departure from previous training camp practices, as the team prepares to welcome the New York Giants for a set of joint practices later this week.
"Looking forward to another good week here," said Bill Belichick in the morning as he helped kick off the week. "I thought we got a lot done last week in Philadelphia, and this week's another opportunity for us to spend a couple of days here working on things that obviously we need to work on both fundamentally and to continue to install and build our scheme. Look forward to working against the Giants on Wednesday and Thursday and then playing on Sunday. We can hopefully build on some of the things we've done, but also we need to cover some new ground and continue to move ahead."
The biggest news of the day broke just as practice got started, with the Patriots announcing that due to COVID-19 protocols Cam Newton would miss five days of action. Reports indicated that Newton could be back on the field for the second session with the Giants, however, with just under three weeks before the opening game against the Dolphins, it's an unfortunate setback just as Newton put together a solid preseason performance against the Eagles.
With Newton out, it put a heavy workload onto Mac Jones' plate.
Aside from Newton's unexpected absence, there was an encouraging number of players back on the field with Jonnu Smith, Anfernee Jennings and Jonathan Jones back and fully able to participate after being banged up last week and missing out on the game in Philly. Nick Folk and Joe Cardona also returned after extended absences from camp and for Folk, his return comes just as Quinn Nordin comes off missing two kicks against the Eagles.
The absences included rookie NFI players Joshuah Bledsoe and Cameron McGrone, and PUP players Byron Cowart, Terez Hall and Stephon Gilmore. Matt LaCosse, was absent after taking a hard hit in Philly joint practices, as were Myles Bryant and Tre Nixon. While Hunter Henry was present in full pads for the practice, he has still yet to fully participate and remains limited by a reported shoulder issue.
Here is everything that stood out from Monday's fully padded practice.
-- With Newton out, Mac Jones took all of the starter's reps and, after a slow start he finished strong. In the initial 11-on-11 period, Jones failed to connect on multiple pass attempts, with Nelson Agholor knocking away a near interception, the misfires from Jones to Jakobi Meyers on an out route, Jonnu Smith up the seam and Devin Asiasi on a crossing route. Jones would later connect with Smith up the seam on one of his better throws of the day. Just a week after an ankle injury scare, Smith looks like he dodged a bullet.
-- After the initial incompletions, Jones was notably more active in the huddle, clapping his hands together trying to get the guys going and the offense seemed to respond as they'd compete four-straight passes to Asiasi, Smith, Kendrick Bourne on a crosser, and then Agholor on a sideline hitch. They'd wrap the period with two-straight incompletions before Nick Folk hit his first field goal attempt of the practice. Folk's consistency is what can win him the job but after his first attempt, he showed some rust later in practice. Quinn Nordin did not take any live reps during the team periods.
-- The first defense would get some work against Brian Hoyer and the backup offense as they were playing off of cards. JoeJuan Williams continues to see plenty of top reps and is consistently trying to get his hands onto the ball even after completions. In this period, he got a late hand in to knock the ball out of Devin Ross' hands. Later in practice, Williams would have a similar play on Agholor along the sideline. Williams drew some nice praise from cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino on Sunday as he continues to look more and more comfortable in and around the first units. He's getting his hands in on the ball a lot.
-- While there were mostly team periods during this practice with a lot of situational passing work, there were some nice runs, especially by Sony Michel, who is continuing to have a consistently productive camp. He looks explosive through the line once again. But for the defense, Deatrich Wise showed up with a strong wrap-up of James White on a particular play. There's no tackling going on, but Wise gave White the full bear hug treatment before letting him go. It's just so tough to fully evaluate the ground game in these kinds of practices.
-- For the next period, practice moved down to the red zone, a spot where they've gotten plenty of work all summer. After the early days of practice featured almost entirely red-zone work, it was also a key part of last Tuesday's joint session with the Eagles. In eight opportunities, the offense produced four touchdowns, with three coming on running plays. The first was a toss left to Damien Harris, while the second was a toss to Rhamondre Stevenson and the third was a read option to James White that he took up the middle. It looked like all three would've crossed the goal line though I'm sure the defense might have something to say about them, especially White's.
-- Jones' passing during the period was inconsistent, missing fade to Agholor that was nicely broken up by J.C. Jackson, as well as two incompletions to the back end line to Gunner Olszewski and Kendrick Bourne. Agholor had a chance on his target but the ball could've been better delivered by the quarterback. Jones would also not even make an attempt on one rep as it looked like the defense would've gotten the sack. Jones' lone successful pass in this red zone period was a quick-hit slant to Agholor on the third rep.
-- The team period would be broken up with some work on the punt game, with Joe Cardona back long snapping after missing a couple weeks of practice with an undisclosed injury. Dave Ziegler was spotted taking in the drill from in back of the punt returners. It wasn't quite like Nick Caserio firing passes around the field, but Ziegler was close to the thick of it.
-- Justin Herron took the only penalty lap of the day as the second teams got some 11-on-11 work. Herron had a false start and has had some penalty issues this summer, as he's been no stranger to laps around the practice fields this summer.
-- Rhamondre Stevenson had a drop during this phase, just a day after running backs coach Ivan Fears had praised him for his recent development. Both Stevenson and J.J. Taylor continue to push for reps and opportunities, something that consistency will certainly help but after a fumble against the Eagles and now a drop in practice, Stevenson has some work to do.
-- The final period was an end-of-game situation, with coach Belichick yelling out the offense was down by six points. After an up-and-down practice, Jones finished strong, getting the drive started finding Kendrick Bourne on a dig route. JoeJuan Williams would contest a sideline catch by Agholor and it wasn't clear if Williams knocked the ball out before or after Agholor went out of bounds, but the coaching staff appeared to give it to the offense and the drive continued.
-- Bourne had the catch of the day on the next play, snagging a one-handed catch over the middle of the field that drew a notable reaction. Jones' anticipation was on display as the ball was thrown well before Bourne was in the window, putting it where only the receiver could get it. Josh Uche's pressure would force an incompletion with Agholor again the intended target on the next play as he continues to be a pass rush problem.
-- Jones would close out the drive and the practice with two completions to Gunner Olszewski, first on a quick out that stopped the clock and got the offense within range. Jones then went back to Gunner for the touchdown on a quick outside slant with J.C. Jackson in coverage on him. Again, it was a great anticipatory throw by Jones, putting it where only Gunner could get it. The offense celebrated the touchdown with enthusiasm, with Bourne giving Gunner a flurry of high fives.
-- Nick Folk would make the extra point to give the offense the one-point "win" before finishing two of four on his final field goal attempts. The distance was tough to gauge all kicks had plenty of leg, including the second that went wide left, while the fourth and final attempt was blocked by Kyle Dugger.
-- The team would wrap up the session by taking to the conditioning hills, where the familiar phrase "60 minutes" could be heard as they get their conditioning up to speed for the regular season.