Throughout the first week of camp there have been many comments from offensive players regarding the difficulties presented by their teammates on defense. With a variety of experienced players to use, the defense has made life tough during the vast majority of the full team periods through the first six practices.
That was the case again on Tuesday, both during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. In full disclosure the bulk of the practice was conducted at less than full speed as Bill Belichick had his troops back in shells after a day in pads. Perhaps the physicality of Monday's work necessitated the scaled back start on Tuesday but the first half of practice featured a lot of walkthrough-type instruction. The last half saw the intensity rise a bit, and Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe were able to make sone plays but also struggled at times with timing.
"Playing against guys like AP [Adrian Phillips], Dug [Kyle Dugger] and Jalen Mills all the time is tough," Hunter Henry admitted after practice.
While Henry's comments may come off as an excuse, the truth is the Patriots secondary is capable of dialing up a bunch of different looks. On Tuesday the back end saw various groups that included Phillips, Dugger, Mills, Jabrill Peppers, Christian Gonzalez, Myles Bryant, Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones. Each play brought virtually a different set of personnel for Jones, Zappe and the receivers to deal with, and that versatility seems to be causing problems.
"They put a lot of stress on the defense with their multiple looks and that makes communication tougher," Phillips said of the offense. "If you're not communicating well you don't want to be seeing guys popping open 40 yards downfield. We have done a good job – whether it's me, Dug, JMills or Peppers – of being to switch the communication based on field position. We have the ability to do some of those things."
The results thus far have been impressive. During 7-on-7s on Tuesday, Marcus Jones recognized a hole in the coverage and left his man to help out on JuJu Smith-Schuster. Mac Jones had his receiver open moving outside the numbers toward the sideline, but the throw was a bit late and the corner nearly picked it off.
During the team periods, Jones connected with DeVante Parker on a back shoulder fade down the left sideline for one of the offensive highlights. Shortly thereafter Jones found Henry on a slant for a touchdown. In between Kendrick Bourne got behind Marcus Jones on a deep ball but unfortunately the throw was slightly long and fell incomplete. It was the first true deep ball attempted during camp, and Bourne did a nice job of shaking free.
Otherwise the coverage won more battles than not. Even the versatility of the linebackers with players like Mack Wilson and Marte Mapu was on display. Wilson made a pair of terrific plays in coverage, the first showing great range in dropping into a deep zone to deflect a pass away. Jack Jones and Bryant also came up with solid diving deflections to prevent completions, both from Jones and Zappe.
The problems the defense creates with regard to timing were on full display on a couple of occasions where the quarterbacks tried to find running backs as outlets against pressure looks. One worked to perfection as Henry provided a great rub to free up Kevin Harris for an easy touchdown. But others saw the timing disrupted and lead to errant throws, one that went off Pierre Strong's hands to negate a potential completion.
"Everything we do we have to try to get the quarterback off his toes," Phillips concluded.
Through the first week, that has been the case more often than not.
Beyond the secondary's versatility, here are one man's observations from Day 6 of training camp.
- The first padded practice led to several Patriots dealing with injuries and some of those players were unable to take part on Tuesday. Cole Strange was present but did not take part in practice after dealing with a left leg/knee injury suffered on Monday. A Boston Globe report indicated that the issue is not believed to be serious. In addition, Jalen Hurd, Brad Hawkins and Chasen Hines all missed the practice. Hines and Hawkins did some conditioning running but Hurd was not spotted. Tight end Scotty Washington spent most of the day working out on the rehab field as well. Ty Montgomery missed his fourth straight practice while Terez Hall missed his second straight. Jake Matthews returned to practice after missing the last two workouts.
- Mike Onwenu (ankle) and Cody Davis (knee) remain on PUP while Calvin Anderson is still on NFI. Belichick was asked if Anderson's illness situation had the potential to be a long-term issue but the coach offered little clarity. "It's always hard on those situations," Belichick said. "If everything goes perfectly, then that's one thing. If something comes up and there's a setback, or there's a change, then that's something else. So, I'm not going to sit here and try to play fortune teller and look into the crystal ball and say, 'Oh, well this guy is going to be healthy on X date.' I can't do that. Day-to-day. If they're better today, then we do more tomorrow. If they're better tomorrow, then we do more the next day. If they get set back, then we review it, revise it and go forward."
- Assistant head coach Joe Judge worked with long snappers Joe Cardona and Tucker Addington early in practice. After they snapped the ball and retreated into blocking position, Judge threw a tennis ball in their direction forcing them to catch it with one hand. Not sure I've seen those drills before this summer.
- Kick returns were in focus on Tuesday with Marcus Jones, Dugger and Demario Douglas rotating back deep. Douglas has shown excellent hands as a returner thus far but made a mental error when he allowed one kick to hit the ground before corralling the loose ball. With the changes to the touchback rules there could be some variations as to how teams will handle kickoffs, so preparation for fielding the ball at various spots of the field will be important.
- Belichick spoke with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on Sirius XM's "Moving the Chains" program on Monday and was asked about Adrian Klemm's addition to the coaching staff. Belichick was complimentary of his new offensive line coach explaining how "he traches the same principles that Dante [Scarnecchia] believed in." Anytime you're being compared to the Patriots legendary former offensive line coach it's high praise.
- Matt Sokol continues to be active each day as he tries to earn a roster spot as a reserve tight end. Belichick was asked about Sokol before practice and offered some praise. "Matt's a hard worker," Belichick said. "Very diligent, kind of a first in, last out type of guy, very smart, studies well, has good size, has good skill. Obviously got a good background here, but he's shown up positively, both in the passing game and in the running game a little bit last year. We were just getting started here yesterday, but I think that'll be something that he will be competitive in. It's good to have him. He gives us another quality depth player at that position. He's good to work with, and he's ahead of where he was last year, too, by a lot, so that's another big positive for him, second year in the program."
- Jahlani Tavai, Andrew Firkser, Conor McDermott, Matthew Slater, Henry and Phillips were among those who spent time chatting with the media after practice.
- The Patriots will be back at it on Wednesday with gates set to open at 8:30 a.m. with practice to get underway at 9:45 a.m. As always, please check back with Patriots.com for the latest updates to the training camp schedule.