Bill Belichick is often asked about his plans in terms of playing time as the first preseason game approaches. He rarely provides answers. But that doesn't mean he doesn't allow the media and fans to know how he is leaning.
That was the case on Tuesday when he deflected questions about Mac Jones before practice but less than an hour later offered a glimpse as to how he will likely approach things Thursday night against Houston.
As the first full team period commenced, Bailey Zappe was under center with a group of young players who will likely see some early action against the Texans. Included in that group were receivers Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas and running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris. A host of rookie and second-year offensive linemen rotated through in that group alongside veterans James Ferentz and Conor McDermott.
That unit went against a defense that ran off cards, providing scout looks for Bill O'Brien's crew. Trace McSorley and Malik Cunningham followed Zappe, likely an indication that all three will see some time at quarterback Thursday night. After indicating that a lot of young players would be starting, Belichick was asked about his expectations for the game.
"To give the players a chance to play and see how they perform in contact situations," the coach said. "They're somewhat limited out here, but it's putting it all together, not just a drill or first-and-10s, 7-on-7s … it's real football. Things change quickly, they'll have to make in-game adjustments, how they compete, the physicality, and a lot of guys will get a chance, so we'll see how it goes."
While there wasn't much to take from the work, it did provide an opportunity to watch how some of the less experienced players handled the surroundings. Clearly that will grow to a new level Thursday night, and even more so for those who wind up sticking around during the regular season.
"It will be an opportunity for me to get my first game action in this system," McSorley said after practice. "It will give me a chance to run the operation, get some decision making and get my feet wet in game conditions for the first time in this offense."
It was also interesting to watch Mac Jones handle the scout reps toward the latter part of practice, which once again was conducted in full pads. Jones seemed to enjoy running some of the RPO and read option looks the Texans figure to feature with rookie first-round pick C.J. Stroud at the helm. Jones did quite a bit of running, both by design and off scrambles during the period.
Jones also took some reps in the red zone and two-minute with the regular offense. The highlight of those plays came when Mike Gesicki made a remarkable one-handed catch on a ball thrown high and behind him. The tight end went high to snag it while somehow managing to tap his toes in bounds in the back of the end zone where the official was there to raise his arms to signal touchdown. It was Gesicki's second impressive one-handed grab in as many days.
Beyond the plans for Thursday night, here are one man's observations from Day 12 of training camp.
*The Patriots officially announced the signing of Trey Flowers, adding some depth to the defensive line. He is listed on the roster as No. 58, but Belichick said before practice that Flowers wouldn't suit up and he wasn't spotted. The former 2015 fourth-round pick spent last season with Miami, appearing in just four games before landing on injured reserve with a foot injury. Flowers has played in only 18 of a possible 50 games over the last three seasons after enjoying a solid 2019 campaign in Detroit. The 29-year-old has struggled to stay healthy lately but showed glimpses in Miami early in 2022, recording seven quarterback pressures in Weeks 3 and 4. If healthy, Flowers figures to join Deatrich Wise and rookie Keion White at defensive end.
*Ty Montgomery missed his 10 consecutive practice, joining Cole Strange (seventh), Jonathan Jones (fourth) and Bill Murray (second) on the absentee list. Matthew Slater returned to uniform and Johnny Lumpkin was back in his normal white jersey after spending several days in red. Marte Mapu remains in red while Mike Onwenu (ankle, PUP), Cody Davis (knee, PUP) and Calvin Anderson (NFI) all have yet to see the field this summer.
*The offensive line continues to battle through injuries and at times has struggled to keep the quarterbacks clean during practice. Jones feels like the group is competing well despite the obstacles. "I think the offensive line is doing great. I think right now, obviously there's some injuries, but those guys are doing a great job trying to fight to keep the pocket clean, and it all starts with those guys. I feel like they've made a lot of progress. We've got a lot of veterans, but we also have a lot of young guys who haven't played as much. It's just good to see them come together, and you never know when there's going to be an injury in a game."
*CBS sideline reported Evan Washburn was on hand for the afternoon workout. He chatted with Mac Jones after practice.
*Robert Kraft and his son Dan took in practice as well. The owner did an interview with former Patriot Markus Kuhn as part of the German broadcast team.
*UMass basketball coach Frank Martin was a guest at practice as well.
*One of the highlights of the 1-on-1 we've seen during the padded practices has been the battles between Douglas and Marcus Jones. Douglas has gotten the better of things for the most part but such drills are designed to benefit the offense with no pass rush or additional coverage leverage available. Jones did a nice job on one rep on Tuesday, forcing an incompletion. Both talked about the daily battles after practice.
"We've been going at it every day," Jones said. "His quickness in and out of his breaks and his ability to change speeds and not slow down is impressive for a rookie."
"We're both getting better every day," Douglas added. "The speed he brings and he brings the speed out of me because of that. It's been great."
*The majority of the work on Tuesday was not conducted at a high level of speed or intensity but that didn't stop Matthew Judon from completing one play. Harris took and handoff and made his way through the line, darting in and out of traffic. A couple of defenders came over and tried to knock the ball loose, but Harris held on before throttling down well into the secondary. Just as he was coming to a stop, Judon came down with a chop and was able to knock the ball free.
*Trent Brown took some reps at left tackle with the scout team directed by Mac Jones. Brown looked rusty after several days of inactivity and allowed a few pressures/sacks to Sam Roberts before being replaced.
*Carl Davis, Davin Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise and Brown all did some conditioning runs with director of skill development Joe Kim.
*There were quite a few Patriots who spent time with the media on Tuesday. That group included McSorley, Marcus Jones, Mac Jones, Hunter Henry, Douglas, Deatrich Wise and Harris. Jahlani and Justus Tavai also sat down for an interview with WBZ.
*Tuesday was the Patriots final training camp practice that is scheduled to be open to the public in Foxborough. With joint practices on tap with Green Bay and Tennessee over the next two weeks there will be additional opportunities for the media and fans to the workouts.