Sunny skies and warmer temperatures greeted the Patriots for Day 2 of training camp, and things began to slowly heat up for the offense. After another slow start similar to Wednesday, the production was on the rise as practice continued with the team's multiple tight ends on full display.
Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, New England's two high-priced free agent additions, were held under wraps for most of the day yesterday but as the proceedings continued Thursday the two made some plays. Henry grabbed a pair of touchdowns in the final full team segment while Smith showed his athleticism on a crosser for a big play.
Cam Newton was the beneficiary of the tight end burst, delivering the ball on time and on the mark to both. He also found Troy Fumagalli in the end zone for another touchdown, which led to some developing thoughts on what the offense might look like if Newton ultimately wins the job.
Newton's running ability, combined with the assumption that the offense will be relatively ground-oriented, could mean multiple tight ends will be prevalent. However, in addition to Henry and Smith, it's possible Bill Belichick might look for an attack with three tight ends similar to the way Baltimore has approached things the last couple of seasons.
Newton certainly doesn't have the dynamic element as a runner that Lamar Jackson possesses, but short passes to tight ends coupled with his power running approach could make for a difficult offense to defend.
Fumagalli and Matt LaCosse have flashed some play-making ability in both practices, and one could emerge as a potential third wheel in such sets. Devin Asiasi remains out of the lineup due to COVID but his athleticism also could make him a candidate to contribute in such a role.
Probably far too early to make any such declarations, especially considering Thursday's work also took place exclusively in the red zone where tight ends generally flourish, but it was hard not to envision how multiple tight end sets could play a huge role in the Patriots offense this season.
Beyond the late offensive heroics, here are one man's impressions of Day 2 of Patriots training camp.
*Bill Belichick said before practice that Tuesday was the first day the team would be allowed to don full pads.
*Attendance was unchanged from Wednesday with the exception of one addition: quarterback Jake Dolegala. He was signed after clearing waivers following his release in Green Bay. Dolegala spent the 2020 season on the Patriots practice.
*Dolegala adds a fourth quarterback to the depth chart with Jarrett Stidham on PUP and perhaps facing a lengthy absence. Bill Belichick mentioned Stidham "could miss a little time" when he spoke to the media prior to practice, Reports indicated Stidham may be facing surgery to repair a nagging issue with his lower back/hip that has affected his throwing, and it's possible that Belichick felt it was important to have another option.
*Otherwise, the PUP list remained unchanged with Stidham, Stephon Gilmore, Brandon King, Chase Winovich, Terez Hall, Dalton Keene and Byron Cowart while NFI included Joshuah Bledsoe, Rhamondre Stevenson and Cameron McGrone. Asiasi remained out while Anfernee Jennings was the lone player not spotted who is not on a list. A report indicated the second-year linebacker is dealing with a death in his family and that could explain his absence.
*Newton once again drew the lone significant response from the crowd when he entered the practice fields. The warmer temps added to the size of the crowd from Wednesday and they voiced their excitement upon Newton's arrival. The quarterback also took some time to interact with the fans as he did the previous day.
Presenting photos of the Patriots during Training Camp on Thursday, July 29, 2021.
*There was quite a powwow that took place while the team was completing it pre-practice routine with Robert Kraft, Belichick, Matt Patricia and Tedy Bruschi. That group was gathered for several minutes between the fields as the players were getting set to warm up. The quartet knows a little something about winning with combined for 22 Super Bowl rings with Belichick leading the way with eight, followed Kraft (6), Patricia (5) and Bruschi (3).
*There was an addition to some of the wide receiver drills we watch early in practice as the players ran under gates to stay low coming out of their breaks before catching passes. The gates looked like small doorways with the wideouts darting through them early on.
*The special teams focus was on punts on Thursday with Jakobi Meyers, Marvin Hall, Tre Nixon, J.J. Taylor and Gunner Olszewski all handling return duties. Justin Bethel, Adrian Colbert, J.C. Jackson, D'Angelo Ross, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones, Michael Jackson and Kyle Dugger all worked as vice guys and gunners during the period.
*While Wednesday's red zone work took place close to the goal line, Thursday's approach came a bit further way. At times the drills started at the 25 but mostly consisted of high red zone snaps between the 15 and 20. There were lots of screens and runs during the first set of plays, and Newton finished the series with some power runs and read options. After one power sweep to the left, Newton bowled the ball into the hill where the fans waited to corral it.
*Mac Jones was impressive on some of his throws during 7-on-7s, hitting Meyers on a nice crossing route for a touchdown for his most impressive pass. He also connected with LaCosse in tight quarters on another throw near the goal line on a play where Kyle Van Noy appeared poised to prevent the completion.
*It was an inconsistent day for Meyers, who had an impressive throw from Newton slip through his hands at the goal line on a would-be touchdown. Meyers ran a nice slant and Newton didn't have much room to get it to him, but his throw was perfect – only to fall incomplete.
*The tackling drills took on a different look with defenders chasing the ball carriers both from the front and back. The receivers caught passes and were chased from behind while also trying to avoid oncoming pursuit from a second defender. It was another way to practice ball security as the trailing defender was punching the ball out from the backside, and they succeeded a couple of times. Tre Nixon lost the ball and took off on a lap shortly after.
*Others forced to hit the road during the practice included Mike Onwenu (false start), Olszewski (muffed punt), Jackson and Deatrich Wise and Davin Godchaux, who both jumped offside during an 11-on-11 play.
*Newton tried to take advantage of a free play when Wise and Godchaux were too anxious and got into the neutral zone. He looked deep down the left sideline for Nelson Agholor but he was well covered and the quarterback's throw was out of reach.
*Joejuan Williams was matched up with N'Keal Harry on a numbers of snaps and the corner appeared to get the better of things. Harry made a few plays on Wednesday but didn't seem to build off that solid start as Williams locked him up at least three times. Those plays came in the red zone where Harry should be able to use his size and physicality to create space, but Williams more than matched that and easily prevented connections each time.
*Brian Hoyer hooked up with Fumagalli for a couple of touchdowns early in practice. Fumagalli, a fourth-year tight end out of Wisconsin, arrived during the spring but has shown some ability in his short time with the team. He later caught another TD from Newton.
*The final series of 11-on-11 play went long and featured Steve Belichick (defense) and Josh McDaniels (offense) wearing headsets and calling plays for their respective units. Newton and Jones both took their reps and watch Hoyer come in, but then Jones was sent back into the huddle for two more snaps, the first of which resulted in a jailbreak sack. Watching the sequence made me think Belichick may have inserted the rookie on the fly (as would be the case for a backup should an injury occur) to make sure he remained engaged and ready to go on the sideline.
*As that longer period wrapped up, both Newton and Jones took more reps to close the day. This period was by far Newton's best of the two days. He was crisp and decisive with his throws to the tight ends, and at one point he seemed quite pleased after a touchdown to Henry when he pretended to play some guitar in his celebration.
*Things didn't go nearly as well for Jones, who struggled. He threw low and well in front of Meyers on a shallow cross and showed some frustration similar to his demeanor on the final day of minicamp in the spring. His timing was off a bit and his trademark accuracy also escaped him during the series. He appeared to be flustered at times, but overall there's still a lot to like about the rookie's overall game.
*Practice closed with rookie Quinn Nordin handling all of the field goals. He attempted kicks from between 33 and 48 yards, mostly from the left hash, and connected on his final three. He appeared to miss at least one of his first two attempts, although it was tough to tell from our vantage points up on the ramps to the left of the uprights.
*Belichick once again had the team head to the hills behind the practice field for some conditioning runs before heading to the locker room.
*Dugger, Agholor, Godchaux, Damien Harris, Ted Karras and Matt Judon all spoke with the media following practice.
*Day 3 of camp is set to begin Friday at 9:45 a.m. in Foxborough. The practice is open to fans (no autographs allowed) and gates open to the public at 8:30 a.m.