For the second straight day Mac Jones had the stage all to himself, and for the second straight day he failed to take full advantage of his opportunity.
Cam Newton was away from the team due to violations of the COVID-19 protocols set up by the league, leaving Jones by himself to take the first-team reps. As was the case on Monday, Jones was uneven for much of the day, showing flashes of brilliance at times while also struggling to maintain consistency.
Jones led all the periods once again, first a brief 7-on-7 period followed by plenty of 11-on-11 work that included an emphasis on hurry-up and two-minute situations. He had moments where his accuracy was on point, particularly on a pair of touchdown throws to Jakobi Meyers and Jonnu Smith. But he was also a bit ragged on other occasions, once throwing well behind Gunner Olszewski and having the deflected pass picked off by Devin McCourty. He also misfired toward a couple of open targets, most notably when he overthrew a wide open Meyers on a deep ball on a clear coverage break down.
Later in practice, Jones tried to hit Olszewski on a slant but was picked by J.C. Jackson, who made a strong play to get inside the receiver.
Overall there were plenty of reasons to remain excited about the 15th overall pick. Jones shows poise and awareness in the pocket and typically gets rid of the ball in a timely manner and generally is on target with his throws. He also continues to take a lot of underneath throws and passes up chances for bigger plays downfield.
I hesitate to use this as a criticism because I'm not aware of the play designs involved in such circumstances, and certainly there are times when Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels want the youngster to take what's given him and keep the chains moving with the short stuff.
However, at some point it would be nice to see Jones pushing the ball downfield effectively a little more often, particularly to the tight ends. Smith was Jones' target deep down the seam early in Tuesday's practice and the tight end appeared to be in the clear, but Kyle Van Noy was able to leap and deflect the pass away.
It was a solid defensive play to be sure, but the pass also appeared to be a bit short and it's one that Jones has struggled to complete consistently. In short, it illustrates the fact that Jones is still very much a rookie and despite his promising start he still has a long way to go in order to get in a position to win the job.
Fortunately for Jones, he has another major opportunity to show his development when the Giants come in for the first of two joint practices in Foxborough on Wednesday. That will be his biggest (and toughest) chance to stake a claim to the starter's job heading into the season. The joint practices are much more competitive than the preseason games with intensity and competition levels much higher.
Newton will be out of the equation once again before being eligible to return to the team on Thursday. Assuming Jones can build off the last two days and establish more consistency, Wednesday might be the biggest day in Jones' young career as he tries to earn the start on opening day against Miami.
Beyond Jones, here are one man's observations from Day 17 of training camp.
*Not much movement on the injury list on Tuesday as it was nearly identical to Monday's. Jarrett Stidham, Stephon Gilmore, Terez Hall and Byron Cowart are still on PUP and Joshuah Bledsoe and Cameron McGrone remain on NFI. In addition to Newton, N'Keal Harry (shoulder), Brandon Bolden, Matt LaCosse (head) and Tre Nixon were missing from practice. It was the fifth straight day Nixon has been absent, which is obviously not a good sign for the rookie. LaCosse has been out the past three practices while Bolden and Harry missed their second straight.
*The one change to the list was Myles Bryant, who returned wearing a red, non-contact jersey after missing four practices. Bryant was mostly a spectator at practice but given the lack of depth in the secondary it was a good sign to see him back in the fold.
*In addition to the injured players, several Patriots were not spotted at practice. That group included Devin Ross, Brian Khoury, R.J. Prince, Marcus Martin, Malik Gant and Nick Thurman. With the NFL's mandatory cut down to 80 players on Tuesday, various reports indicated that Ross, Khoury, Prince and Gant were released.
*During the early 7-on-7 period the defense used seven defensive backs along with linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Corners J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones joined safeties Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger. With so many true cover men on the field at once, Jones was forced to try to fit some passes into tight windows. He wasn't successful for the most part, throwing wide of Kendrick Bourne near the sideline on one play before being forced to check it down to Nelson Agholor on a shallow cross.
*The offense also had an different look during that period with both Sony Michel and James White operating out of the backfield. Michel appears to be making a push to be more actively involved in the passing game and it looking more and more comfortable in that role. Ivan Fears gushed about Michel's efforts last week in Philadelphia, saying he enjoyed "helluva week" against the Eagles. He was targeted several times in practice and looked fluid making his catches. Time will tell if he can take that performance into the season.
*The Patriots worked on kick returns during the first special team period and then kickoffs on the second. Rhamondre Stevenson and Dugger handled the returns, and on one rep he got an earful from special teams coach Cam Achord after he seemingly failed to take his return in the proper direction.
*The 11-on-11s that followed the kick return work saw Jones' most productive portion of practice. While the defense seemed to vacillate between periods of vsrying intensity, the rookie was on target on a crossing route to Smith followed soon thereafter by the touchdown tosses to Meyers and Smith. Meyers got free on a deep fade from about 20 yards out, beating Jonathan Jones with a diving catch in the end zone. A couple of plays later, Smith ran a short post from inside the 10 to grab another TD from Jones.
*Brian Hoyer didn't take many reps during the practice but was able to connect with J.J. Taylor on an impressive wheel route down the left side. Taylor caught Hoyer's pass over the shoulder and made a nice grab for a big gain. A short time later Hoyer tried to again go deep and had Jakob Johnson open down the seam but Jackson made an impressive play to come off his man and make the pick as the de facto center fielder.
*The 11-on-11 work soon transitioned to two-minute and hurry-up drills and Jones failed to connect with Meyers on a bomb. Meyers ran free down the hashes, taking advantage of a clear coverage breakdown to get in the clear, but Jones overshot him and the pass fell incomplete. Jones immediately put his hands on his helmet as he lamented a lost opportunity.
Check out photos of Patriots Training Camp on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.
*There was a scary moment during practice when Damien Harris took a pitch and tried his way toward the right end, only to be upended by a fallen Ronnie Perkins. Perkins was knocked to the ground and was rising up as Harris tried to race by and the two collided. Harris came away unscathed but Perkins limped to the sideline. It was an odd sequence with the players in shells and not much if any contact going on.
*Olszewski enjoyed a solid night against the Eagles, catching four passes for 57 yards. He also made an impressive double move that drew an obvious holding flag on the Eagles secondary. To this point Olszewski hasn't made much of an impact as a receiver, but perhaps the work in Philly was a sign that the coaches are ready to add more to his plate. On Tuesday he saw some higher level reps, working in a group with Agholor, Bourne and Smith. He wasn't overly productive – he did catch a nice in-cut from Jones early – and was targeted on both of Jones' interceptions. It will be interesting to see if Olszewski can contribute as a receiver.
*Practice ended with some "got-to-have-it" plays for the offense from the red zone. On the first two chance the defense came out on top. The first was Jackson's pick on the slant to Olszewski and the second saw Hoyer under a heavy blitz and forced to throw it away. Both saw the offense doing pushups after the play. Then Jones likely would have been sacked, but he continued the play and scrambled to find Kristian Wilkerson for the touchdown before hitting Agholor just inside the right pylon for another score. Now it was the defense's turn to do pushups, although they were a bit relucatant to do so on the first as they clearly felt they won the rep with the sack.
*After Nick Folk handled the late field goals on Monday, Quinn Nordin was back it on Tuesday. He connected through the narrow uprights (about half the normal size) on kicks on 34 and 41 yards to start before hooking consecutive kicks to the left from 47 yards out. The first looked like it might have been good with normal uprights but the second was well wide. He then pushed a 50 yarder well to the right before his final attempt was blocked by Dugger.
*Justin Bethel, Trent Brown, Nick Folk, J.C. Jackson, Matt Judon, Matthew Slater and Jonnu Smith all spoke to the media after practice.
*The Patriots and Giants will practice together on Wednesday and Thursday in Foxborough before travelling to the Meadowlands for the preseason finale on Sunday. The joint practices are open to the media and the public and will kick off at 10 a.m. each day with gates opening at 9 a.m. These will be the last two practices of the summer open to fans.