The majority of the first four days of training camp were spent working in the red zone. Bill Belichick explained how the tight quarters forces quick decisions, and the extended reps down close to the goal line has helped in many ways.
But things will be changing next week when the focus will change to more situational work as the competition level progresses when the pads go on.
"I Feel like we've had a good opportunity to work in the red area here in training camp as kind of a continuation of our spring installation," Belichick said. "So we'll kind of wind things up here today and then move into some other situations next week and have a couple padded practices next and into the following week prior to playing Washington.
"Hopefully we can just continue to make gains every day, string good days together and keep improving. We all have a lot of work to do. We spent quite a bit of time on other situations so the time dedicated to the red area I think has been beneficial. There are still a lot of other things we have to work on and improve as well. So that'll really happen starting next week."
That red area worked continued for much of the practice on Saturday, but the players also got some situational work with substitutions, late down-and-distance and even late-game field goals with the clock running to close out practice. Cam Newton continued to build on the momentum he's started late in Thursday's practice. He took more reps than Mac Jones in 11-on-11s and seemed to fare better.
He worked well with a host of receivers including Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith and Jakobi Meyers. He also connected with Damien Harris and a fade toward the back right pylon for a touchdown. The running back did a nice job of chasing the floater down while barely being able to keep his feet in bounds (it was close, probably would have gone to review). Harris then made an athletic maneuver to leap over a trash barrel that was situated outside of the end zone.
It wasn't perfect for Newton – he misfired on a couple of occasions including to an open Meyers when he threw high instead of leading him to the corner – but it's the first consistent success we've seen from him since his arrival last summer.
Belichick was asked plenty of questions about the quarterback competition, and he admitted it would be a tough decision but also said to this point nothing has changed.
"We'll take a look at the whole situation," he said. "I don't think you want to evaluate players at any position off of one or two plays, or maybe a day, so from a consistency standpoint that's always important and obviously production, so hopefully those things will be good and I'm sure it'll be a hard decision. We'll see how it goes. Let them play and try to do what we feel like is best for the team based on their performance."
When asked if he had an ideal time frame to make a decision, Belichick didn't hesitate. "No. I mean Cam's our starting quarterback. I think I've said that."
That led to a follow-up referencing his comments from earlier in the week when he suggested everyone was starting from scratch.
"That's right, everyone does start from scratch," Belichick maintained. "Again, we all have to reestablish ourselves and that goes for a lot of other players that you could name as well that I'm sure in your mind you think they are starters, and maybe they are starters and they probably will be starters, but they all have to reestablish their positions. That's across the board for the whole team. That doesn't just pertain to one person or position."
The quarterback competition obviously remains the No. 1 highlight of camp but it's not the only thing going on. Here are one man's impressions of Day 4 of training camp, which once again saw the players donning shells with T-shirts, shorts and helmets.
*A day after the return of rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, there was so more movement with regard to the team's lists of absences. Brandon King was removed from PUP and returned to the practice field for the first time since 2019 after missing all of 2020 while dealing with a quad injury. Jarrett Stidham, Stephon Gilmore, Dalton Keene, Chase Winovich, Terez Hall and Byron Cowart remain on PUP, Cameron McGrone and Joshuah Bledsoe are on NFI and Devin Asiasi is still on the COVID-19 reserve list. One report indicated Stidham underwent back surgery that will keep him out of action for 12 weeks.
Anfernee Jennings returned to the team after missing three straight days. Belichick said he was "excused for personal reasons" and wouldn't elaborate any further. Multiple reports say he was dealing with a death in the family.
*Offensive lineman Ted Karras, who left Friday's practice late with an apparent left knee injury, was not seen. Multiple reports indicated he avoided a serious injury but the team still signed offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins. Hawkins, wearing No. 63, was on the field and took part in his first practice.
*Jerod Mayo (inside) and Steve Belichick (outside), who handle the linebackers, walked onto the fields together and spent some time chatting before practice. Most believe that combination is responsible for running the defense, and Belichick has been wearing the headsets at times relaying plays in during camp, including Saturday.
*After the team completed its warmups, the entire group went to the back end of the field above the hills where the conditioning runs take place. Thanks to a staffer watering down the area for several minutes, a makeshift slip-and-slide was ready for the rookies and Matthew Slater took control of the hose and went to work. The youngsters, including first-year coaches and staff, took turns sliding through the wet grass trying to corral loose footballs. Jones executed his first one with a perfect hook slide, and after his second attempt he sprung to his feet and signaled for a first down. The crew seemed to enjoy the lighthearted start to practice.
*Once the teams had completed the pre-practice walkthrough and warmup, the offense went to work on its positional drills. The defense went for a lap around the goal posts on the left field, however. Eventually they got started on their drills as well but it was tough to tell why the group was delayed.
*Nick Folk and Jake Bailey worked on their onside kick techniques while the rest of the team was beginning their positional drills.
*One observation from watching a few days – Aholgor doesn't seem to be a natural pass catcher, particularly on deep balls. He's had a couple of chances on passes thrown slightly over the wrong shoulder and appears to fight the ball a bit. Overall he's been productive early on and hasn't had any blatant drops, but on a few occasions he hasn't made catches on passes when the opportunity has been there – and he hasn't always looked fluid on those plays.
*The first set of 11-on-11 work looked a lot like the first reps on Friday with the defense in position but generally allowing plays to be executed. The intensity was low and the completion percentages for all quarterbacks were predictably high. There was one play where Jones and Bourne appeared to be on separate pages with the wideout heading downfield while the throw went to the outside. The two spoke after the play and Jones appeared to take responsibility. He had his hands on his helmet for several moments before chatting with Josh McDaniels for a while. The rookie is clearly still learning.
*The 3-on-3s we saw on Friday continued, only this set included running backs instead of three wideouts. The defense performed well once again, especially Adrian Phillips. He had terrific coverage on Smith on a couple of occasions and continues his solid play. The offense won the final rep when Brian Hoyer hit Agholor for the touchdown, and the defense finished with some push-ups.
*Phillips and Kyle Dugger have been impressive with the coverage this summer. Both had pass breakups and Phillips' work on tight ends Smith and Hunter Henry has been tough to ignore. It looks like Belichick will have a nice three-man rotation with that pair and veteran Devin McCourty, plus the versatile Jalen Mills available to fill different roles.
*Michael Jackson continues to show competitiveness in coverage every day. He gets beat occasionally but never seems to give up on a play. He's almost always tight with his receiver and plays with physicality. He made a nice play to prevent an Agholor touchdown in the last 11-on-11 period.
*Speaking of that final team segment, Newton took more reps than Jones during the sequence and enjoyed some success. He was in for seven plays and made a couple of nice throws before Jones struggled on his four attempts – all of which were incomplete. Jones overthrew a well-covered Bourne before having a pass knocked down at the line and misfiring to Meyers. Not sure if the design was for Newton to take more reps of if Jones' struggles had something to do with it, but Hoyer replaced the rookie for an extended set after that. Jones then went back in and was under siege for a pair of would-be sacks. Later Newton missed an open Meyers and this time it was the veteran who wound up with his hands on his helmet, expressing his disappointment.
*Practice wrapped up with a couple of situational sequences where quarterbacks completed short passes to set up late field goals. The first two led to Quinn Nordin and the rest of the field goal team rushing onto the field with the clock running before the rookie connected from 33 and 35 yards. The third saw holder Jake Bailey rush under center to spike the ball when the preceding completion resulted in a close first down. Nordin then was good from 32 yards. The kicker's final four attempts were conventional practice kicks from 40 and 42 yards. The third attempt fell way short and appeared to be deflected at the line.
*J.C. Jackson, Gunner Olszewski, Tre Nixon and Ronnie Perkins spoke to the media following practice.
*The Patriots will get their first off day of camp on Sunday before returning to work Monday morning in Foxborough at 9:30 a.m. Gates open to the public at 8:30 a.m. and fans are welcome (no autographs allowed).