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Five Observations on the Patriots Offense at Second Open OTA Practice

Here are five observations as rookie QB Drake Maye and wide receiver Javon Baker impress in second open OTA practice. 

Patriots rookie quarterback Drake Maye (10) passes during an OTA. Also, pictured is quarterback Jacoby Brissett (14).
Patriots rookie quarterback Drake Maye (10) passes during an OTA. Also, pictured is quarterback Jacoby Brissett (14).

The Patriots held their second open organized team activity on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, a two-hour session where the team inched closer to real football.

As head coach Jerod Mayo told reporters before practice, the Patriots have turned the page from the early OTA stages to more team drills, "We're kind of getting into real football now, so first, second, and third down. Now you have to put the sticks into it, and building awareness on both sides of the ball is important," Mayo said at his pre-practice press conference.

Last week, we were critical of how Coach Mayo's staff ran practice. My gripe was with how few reps first-round pick Drake Maye was getting while the Patriots were cycling through four quarterbacks in last Monday's practice. It wasn't necessarily the order the quarterbacks were rotating in, which didn't change much, but rather the volume of reps that Maye was getting, partially due to having four quarterbacks on the roster.

On Wednesday, sixth-round pick Joe Milton was not at practice for an unknown reason, leaving Maye to rep third behind veteran Jacoby Brissett (first) and third-year QB Bailey Zappe (second). Due to Milton's absence, the other quarterbacks had more opportunities. Some tweaks to how the Patriots ran practice also made things more efficient.

For example, the Patriots split the players across their two practice fields to run 7-on-7 drills simultaneously for an extended passing period. On one field, Brissett mostly threw to New England's regulars while Maye worked on the other field. By splitting the team into two squads, Maye got 14 competitive reps in 7-on-7s, during which we saw him get into a rhythm.

Maye completed 12-of-14 passes with impressive downfield throws to speedy wideout Tyquan Thornton and vet JuJu Smith-Schuster. The arm talent was on display when Maye dropped a throw in the bucket to Thornton, who separated over the top on a slot fade. Then, Maye found Smith-Schuster between two zone defenders, showing off the mental side.

On the play, the Patriots ran a high-low concept into the boundary against a cover-two defense. Maye had a route into the flat, while JuJu ran a corner route into the cover-two hole. Maye manipulated the zone structure by pumping to the flat, holding the outside corner in his short zone, then purposely threw slightly behind Smith-Schuster to throw him open in the zone void.

The two incompletions for Maye came on an underthrown back-shoulder pass to rookie TE Jaheim Bell and a late throw into the flat that second-year LB Marte Mapu broke up. Maye will want those two throws back, but overall, he threw the ball well in our first extended look at the Pats rookie.

Although it's important not to get ahead of ourselves in non-padded practices, it was encouraging to see Maye's progress. We haven't seen the sprays that were common in Maye's college film during team drills in Foxboro yet. These aren't fully live reps yet without pads or contact. Still, baby steps. Baby steps are also a good way to describe the smoother practice compared to last week's first OTA. Coach Mayo reiterated his message about reps in practice while also joking with reporters that everyone, including himself, is constantly being evaluated.

"He is taking advantage of the opportunities he gets," Mayo said of Maye. "We're all being evaluated. Hopefully, everyone is open to feedback. [Vice President of Communications] Stacey [James] just told me some things I did wrong the last time I was up here, so it's all good."

If you're in the camp that thinks, "Who is this guy to tell Jerod Mayo how to run a practice?" That's totally fine. I get it. However, my job is to tell you what I see and give my opinion. That's why we are given access to OTAs in the first place—to share our assessments with you, the fans.

Although there were fewer 11-on-11 reps for Maye, Wednesday's practice was what we were looking for last week. Maye got plenty of work, albeit with backups, while the Patriots are staying the course with Brissett as the current QB1. It seems like Maye is taking to the coaching and has made positive strides with his footwork. But we'll need to see him against a more threatening pass rush in camp and the preseason to judge that completely.

Here are five takeaways on the offensive side of the ball from Patriots OTAs on Wednesday:

1. A 'Little Things' Throw by Maye Gets Kudos From Jacoby Brissett

Maye's last of six competitive 11-on-11 reps wasn't anything spectacular. However, the throw was a sign of progress from the Pats rookie. In the play, Maye beat pressure by throwing a slant into tight coverage to wide receiver Kawaan Baker. After the play, Brissett approached Maye and seemed to offer some encouragement.

"It's correcting the things from the day before and going out there and doing it right the next time because you never know when it's gonna come up," Brissett told Patriots.com. "It's just positive reinforcement and trying to instill that confidence in him and show him that he is getting better."

By the sounds of it, Maye didn't properly identify the pressure to make an on-time throw in an earlier practice. Based on Brissett's comments, the coaches threw a similar pressure scheme at him, and he passed the test. Those are the incremental improvements you want to see.

2. WR Tyquan Thornton is Early Candidate for Spring Practice Player of the Year

Obviously, this award doesn't exist. However, every spring, some players pop into OTAs. He's in the best shape of his life! Tyquan breakout season! Let's slow down, particularly with Thornton, because we've seen this movie before. In fact, we saw this last spring from Tyquan, where his speed and separation ability were noticeable until the pads came on in camp.

Still, the gig is to tell you what happened at practice, and what happened was Thornton looked like the best receiver on the field. Tyquan caught the deep ball from Maye, as we mentioned earlier, and ran away from the coverage on a crossing route off boot-action. We aren't doing Tyquan again, and I'm not getting duped again. But his upper body looks thicker, his speed could be more of a factor with better downfield passers, and this offense suits his skill set more than the old system. Wait, are we doing Tyquan again? Let's see what it looks like when he has to play through contact.

3. Rookie WR Javon Baker Flashes Contested Catch Skills in Wednesday's Session

The other receiver whose hype train already has a full head of steam is fourth-round pick Javon Baker. Baker made two impressive plays. First, a catch in traffic working over the middle, and then he beat CB Marco Wilson along the sideline on a high-point fade. Baker has some noticeable tools to work with in his explosiveness, strong hands to make catches outside his frame, and body control to thrive in contested situations. There are some inconsistencies to his game, such as his release work, which was a factor when he was locked up by CB Alex Austin earlier in practice on a pass breakup that led to an interception. Still, you want to see flashes from young players, and Baker certainly has those.

4. Patriots G Sidy Sow Sits Out Practice, Adding to Already Existing O-Line Concerns

Look, let's not overreact to participation in OTAs. However, Sow went through mental reps in a practice jersey rather than participating in team drills on Wednesday. There appeared to be a wrap on Sow's left leg, but it's unknown if he's dealing with an injury. Sow's absence led to more reps for Atonio Mafi, who is taking any rep he can get at guard or center, and Micheal Jordan. The Patriots are reportedly going to start the regular season without starting left guard Cole Strange, and now Sow might be dealing with something, too. Not great.

Although it's impossible to judge offensive linemen without pads, there were two reps, one each for Brissett and Maye, where the play was blown dead due to pressure on the quarterback. The Patriots offensive line remains the biggest sticking point with their outlook on offense.

5. Patriots Quarterbacks Competing in Alex Van Pelt's Throwing Drills

Another change to Patriots practices under the new regime comes during positional drills where offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and QBs coach T.C. McCartney work different drops with the quarterbacks. New England has a standard throwing net with three targets, and Van Pelt will call out which target the quarterbacks should aim for while they're in their drops. The idea is to keep their eyes up, not at their feet, and to react on the fly to Van Pelt's calls, which can sometimes be colors (red, white, or blue) or numbers associated with the different targets.

According to Zappe, who has been told that he's competing for the starting job like the other quarterbacks, the Patriots QBs keep track of how often they hit the targets.

"There's a little smack-talking. We keep count. It's a friendly competition. I think I'm winning, but I'm sure everybody else has their own opinion on it," Zappe said. "It's a fun competition, and everybody gets better."

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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