On the third day the Patriots added shells to their attire as they continue to work in shorts, T-shirts and helmets on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. Mild temperatures and sunny skies once again provided a perfect backdrop for football, although my guess is Bill Belichick would like to see some more heat thrown into the equation.
While the lack of real pads continues to hinder most of the true evaluations, the offense appeared to have a few more positive moments on Friday than has been the case the first two days. Both Cam Newton, who continues to receive the first reps in the drills, and rookie Mac Jones had strong periods of play. Passes came out more crisply and for the most part accurately and the two probably enjoyed their best day together.
A big part of that was the play of two targets the Patriots hope will be a big part of the attack this season – tight end Jonnu Smith and wideout Nelson Agholor. Smith had a strong finish on Thursday after a slow start to camp, but he was even better in this practice. He caught a handful of shallow crosses and showed his athleticism by breaking away for what would have been sizable gains.
He also freed himself in the red zone a couple of times, once making a terrific twisting catch while high-pointing a ball in the back of the end zone. He enjoyed a nice celebration with tight ends coach Nick Caley after that grab.
Agholor had his most productive day, stretching high to haul in a pair of passes along the back line of the end zone, the first from Newton and then from Jones. He showed strong hands and excellent body control as he snared the passes while keeping his feet in bounds on both occasions.
The veteran wideout nearly completed a real strong day when he got both hands on a deep ball from Jones but was unable to hold on. Jones did a great job of navigating the pass rush on the play, but his pass was slightly over the wrong shoulder and Agholor was forced to adjust with the ball in flight. Still, he had both hands on the pass and should have held on for a huge gain.
Seeing the pair of newcomers contribute was a welcome sign. Although it's obviously very early, the ability of the pass catchers to consistently get open has been a problem. Both freed themselves on a number of occasions on Friday, and that will need to be the case during the regular season as the depth of receivers is not great.
And it comes as no surprise that the day those top targets beat the coverage consistently was the same day both Newton and Jones enjoyed their most success together.
Beyond the play of the offense, here are one man's impressions of Day 3 of Patriots training camp.
*There was one change to the absentee list as Rhamondre Stevenson made his debut and was in uniform. The rookie running back took part in individual drills and showed soft hands when catching passes. Otherwise, the PUP, NFI and COVID lists remained unchanged with Jarrett Stidham, Stephon Gilmore, Brandon King, Dalton Keene, Chase Winovich, Terez Hall and Byron Cowart (PUP), Cameron McGrone and Joshuah Bledsoe (NFI) and Devin Asiasi (COVID) all remaining out of action. Anfernee Jennings missed his third straight day, reportedly due to a death in his family.
*Three days and three different players earning the distinction of being the first to arrive. Agholor was first on Wednesday while Adrian Colbert took that prize Thursday. Friday saw Gunner Olszewski beat all his teammates to the field for the start of practice.
*Soon after Olszewski, J.J. Taylor and a few others made their way onto the fields. Taylor and Olszewski fielded several punts out of the Jugs machine.
*The first 11-on-11 period of the day saw the team divided on the two fields. Newton and Jones led the offense on the right side against a defense filled with plenty of rookies and other young players. For the first time in camp many of those plays took place in the middle of the field, outside of the red zone. Brian Hoyer had a group of similarly inexperienced players on the left field working against the front-line defense in the low red zone.
*Jakobi Meyers and Agholor caught touchdowns from Jones, who was sharp to begin his first set of reps. Jones delivers the ball consistently when his back foot completes his dropback. There are times when he throws into coverage and/or lacks accuracy, but the conviction with which he throws is impressive. Most of the time the plays appear to be run in a normal fashion and resemble much of what the Patriots offense has looked like through the years.
*Newton did a better job in this department as well. While there were times he held the ball a bit longer than what would be ideal, he also got rid of several passes quickly and decisively toward their targets. In fairness it should be pointed out that the intensity on defense wasn't apparent at times during the elongated team period.
*Hoyer also was able to make some connections for touchdowns despite going against more regulars. Troy Fumagalli against made a few grabs, and Devin Ross caught a pair of touchdowns as well. J.C. Jackson and Kyle Dugger also came away with picks during the segment.
*The entire team came together shortly after with the reserves on the sidelines as Steve Belichick and Josh McDaniels once again wore headsets and relayed in the plays. There was a great deal of substituting during the stretch as well. On the first play Newton fired a deep pass toward the right pylon toward Agholor, who was dealing with double coverage. Newton's pass was on target but had little chance of being completed until Agholor gave D'Angelo Ross a shove from behind, clearing the way for him to make the catch in the end zone. The defensive coaches immediately made the gesture for pass interference, which likely would have been the result.
*One of the most impressive plays came a little later when Olszewski made a terrific double move on Cody Davis and turned toward the post down the right seam. He was wide open and Jones did not miss him, perfectly floating the deep ball to space where his receiver was able to run it down for the touchdown.
*Jones tried another deep ball a few plays later, this time looking for Smith down the left sideline. Colbert was in good position, however, and the pass incomplete.
*The most competitive period of day took place in the red zone as the team used some 3-on-3 looks to work on bunch formations near the goal line. There can be some confusion in cover with such close quarters as receivers often cross and force the defensive backs to communicate well to keep up. Each side had some success with Smith and Hunter Henry catching touchdowns with Henry springing to his feet with an emphatic spike following his. Dee Virgin made a terrific play to prevent Agholor from making a touchdown catch, and Dugger followed with a diving pass deflection of his own. The defense seemed to hold a slight advantage, and when the period was completed the entire offense did some pushups to close it out.
*The punt coverage got some work during the special team period with Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel, two of the game's best, serving as gunners. Davis took his spot as the personal protector in front of Jake Bailey. Bailey was a bit inconsistent and was visibly upset with himself after a couple of rare shanks. Taylor handled many of the kicks while holding a ball in one hand. He caught most of them cleanly but did have one slip to the ground.
*Dugger was among the best players on defense. In addition to the nice PD during the goal line work he also locked up Matt LaCosse, who has caught plenty of balls in the first three days, and prevented him from adding to his totals. Dugger's physicality shows up in coverage and could be a sign of significant improvement in an area that wasn't a strong suit a year ago.
*Ted Karras got tangled up during a play later in practice and appeared to injure his left leg/knee. He remained down for a moment before trainer Jim Whalen came to check on him. Karras then retreated to the training area at the back end of the field for further evaluation. Shortly after he walked the length of the field under his own power and left for the locker room. He was not limping noticeably and several reports indicated he avoided serious injury but his status is something to monitor in the coming days.
*Nick Folk handled all the field goals after practice, starting from 30 yards before gradually stretching it out to 50. He may have missed his second attempt, a 38-yarder from the right hash, although it was tough to tell for sure. He definitely made good on the other four attempts, including a 50-yarder from the left hash to end things.
*For the third straight day Belichick had the entire team finish practice with some conditioning sprints on the far hills.
*Newton and Agholor remained on the field after the sprints for some extra work.
*The quarterbacks were among those speaking to the media on Friday as Newton, Smith and Hoyer all checked in for the first time this summer. N'Keal Harry, Trent Brown and Meyers also were among those who spoke.
*Day 4 will kick off on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. with gates opening to the public at 8:30 a.m. The practice once again is open to fans but no autographs are allowed. The team also announced practice dates for next week with the Patriots set for workouts on August 2, 3, 4 and 5 at 9:30 a.m.