The Patriots held their second day of minicamp practices on Tuesday, with improved conditions over the non-stop rain that poured down on Monday even with some sun breaking through toward the end of practice. Despite the wet weather, even having practices at all is a huge departure from 2020's all-virtual offseason, the benefit of which was not lost on head coach Bill Belichick, who kicked off the day with a morning media availability.
For this year's rookies, as well as last year's who missed out on OTAs and minicamp, these in-person sessions should provide a significant boost.
"[Last year's rookies] just had to get it all thrown at them in virtual meetings and then go to training camp and at a very accelerated rate, try to put all those things into place and this is a much better teaching progression for anyone, for the rookies and as you said, for the guys who didn't get to do it that way last year," said Belichick. "I'm sure there's a lot of fine points and coaching points and techniques that maybe somewhere got lost in the conversations at times last year that we're able to detail out better this spring."
As for the Patriots veterans, who might need less on-field work than the younger players, the return of off-field team building might be the most beneficial development from last season for them. Throughout the 2020 season, players mentioned how hard it was to get to know their teammates prior to the start of the season and even into the season. Now, with nearly the full roster assembled and many new faces, critical early bonds are already forming.
"We do some things as a team that help to create that team-building environment that you referenced and also the players themselves can individually get together with other guys and do things that they have in common or share experiences and so forth and that's part of it as well," said Belichick. "So, neither one of those were really available last year or they're more available this year, however you want to look at it. That's an important part of team building."
With one of the biggest veteran names missing from Monday's session, Belichick acknowledged that he does not expect to see Stephon Gilmore this week, setting up a significant storyline to watch over the next month in the buildup to training camp. The talented cornerback, who was the league's defensive player of the year in 2019, is reportedly looking for a new contract as he enters his fifth season with New England.
"I don't expect him to be here," said Belichick. "We'll just focus on the guys who are here."
Here's everything that stood out from the guys who were there at the Patriots' second minicamp session...
-- Stephon Gilmore, Chase Winovich, Rashod Berry, Byron Cowart and Terez Hall were not spotted to open the session, the same group that was missing on Monday. Despite seeing his first session shortened, Jonnu Smith was present on Tuesday, but was a limited participant.
-- The session began with a slow walkthrough period of 11-on-11 work, a common occurrence at Patriots practice prior to stretching. Cam Newton and Mac Jones worked with one group on the near field, while Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer worked on the far field. The quarterback groupings would rotate throughout the early drill period. The defensive groups and many offensive pieces were well-mixed, as there's no real delineation of "starters" at this point.
-- The team broke into position groups after stretching, as the quarterbacks worked on avoiding the rush and stepping up the pocket. The receivers worked on quick out routes while the backs and tight ends caught outlet passes. The defensive players worked a fumble recover station while Dante's Inferno was firing with the offensive lineman at the far end of the practice fields.
-- The kickers and long snappers departed for the lower field while Matthew Slater continued his one-on-one gunner work in a private session that was joined by Cody Davis, Justin Bethel and D'Angelo Ross.
-- Devin Asiasi appeared to leave practice just after stretching but would return to the fields after a short period and did not look limited. Asiasi has shown up with a few notable catches during camp and looks to be more comfortable in his second season.
-- Troy Brown looked to be spending his time with the wide receivers during practice after helping out Ivan Fears with the running backs in 2020.
"Troy is very good with all the skill players, catching the ball, running the ball, returning kicks, getting open in the passing game and so forth," said Belichick when asked about Brown's role this season by ESPN's Mike Reiss. "So, like a lot of coaches on our staff, he's versatile, he can do a lot of different things and help a lot of different players. So, I'm sure we'll be able to use him in a variety of ways."
- The secondary continued to work on sorting out bunch sets of receivers in a continuation from Monday. One of the more difficult techniques for defensive backs to master, communication is vital and looked to be a key teaching point during the session.
-- When the offense came together there was extensive work on the screen game, with both the backs and receivers. Cam Newton started off the reps, followed by Mac Jones then Jarrett Stidham. Through five offseason practices that we've seen, there's been consistent work on the screen game and all that it entails.
-- Defensively, the front seven worked on run fits while the defensive backs continued to coordinate their coverages in slow motion.
-- Jarrett Stidham threw a beautiful pass up the seam in the end zone to Nelson Agholor in what could be described as a three-quarter pace. He'd follow that up by missing N'Keal Harry in the back end of the end zone. Mac Jones' accuracy showed up on back-to-back passes in the same drill, finding Devin Asiasi and Hunter Henry with two well-thrown passes. Jones has made notable strides through the offseason but still has some rookie moments, as to be expected. He saw extended reps in a 7-on-7 period, though both he and Cam Newton saw passes batted down by coaches wearing paddles on their hands.
-- The music came on about an hour-and-a-half into practice as 11-on-11's ramped up. Jalen Mills nearly picked off Newton on the first rep, but he'd complete his next pass to Hunter Henry. After dropping a beauty deep pass on Monday from Stidham, Nelson Agholor bounced back with a great catch along the sidelines from Mac Jones, though the defense might've thought otherwise. The energy on that side of the ball has been a constant in periods that were semi-competitive.
-- Jalen Mills would have another dropped pick, this time off of Mac Jones. Jones again saw extended work in the period, including red-zone work. He'd fire one pass behind Isaiah Zuber that fell incomplete.
-- Rookies Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins have consistently popped up in defensive work as it looks like they will have opportunities to contribute early on defense. Both have pass-rushing skills that could be immediately useful on third down.
-- Gunner Olszewski, J.J. Taylor and Jakobi Meyers were among those who took turns returning punts as the session shifted to special teams, specifically focused on the punt team. After a year off, veteran special teams ace Brandon Bolden looks sharp back on the field.
-- Josh McDaniels fired up the headset communication in 7-on-7's as the offense worked on getting the play into the quarterback. Newton was almost picked off by Mills again in his first rep on a deep pass intended for Agholor. Two plays later Adrian Phillips would pick off Newton down the sideline with an acrobatic catch. Newton would bounce back with a nice downfield throw to Gunner Olszewski on the ensuing play.
-- Mills had another impressive pass break up, this one on an attempt up the sideline from Mac Jones to Isaiah Zuber. The veteran defensive back had an outstanding practice, making consistent plays on the ball. His versatility will be a big plus this year no matter where he lines up, which could be pretty much anywhere in the secondary.
-- In the next 11-on-11 session the offense struggled to move the ball with incompletions to Ahoholor and Kendrick Bourne, as the defense varied their third-down pass-rushing fronts The offense did have some success with the screen game and underneath passes but the defense contested just about everything. Dont'a Hightower would cap off a strong overall defensive performance by picking off Mac Jones as Jones tried to lob a pass over the vet. A couple of plays later Kyle Van Noy would also intercept a deflected pass from Jones.
-- Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Matt Judon and Cam Newton were scheduled to speak with the media after practice.
-- The Patriots are scheduled to wrap minicamp with one more practice on Wednesday at 10:45am before embarking on the long break until the opening of training camp at the end of July. The specific dates and details for training camp have yet to be announced.