The Patriots will head to Tennessee today for their second set of joint practices on the road this summer. For a team that was just 3-5 on the road last season, before exorcising their demons by upsetting the Chiefs in Kansas City in the AFC Championship, this kind of team building away from Foxboro is a welcome addition to the slate.
But with games on Saturday against the Titans, then at home on the following Thursday against the Panthers, practice time is becoming more and more valuable. The chances for players to earn a roster spot are diminishing. Those on the bubble must do everything they can to make every rep count and in live practices with another team, they’ll have a great opportunity to compete against real opposition.
The bigger question is how good can the middle and low-range roster members be? Can they be impact players on the team? Or will they simply be placeholders until the team can find someone better?
Here are 5 players who could use a big week of joint practices to elevate their games from getting on the roster by default to actually being impactful players once the real games start.
Wise started training camp on the PUP list but has yet to see the kind of quality reps you might expect from the third-year defensive end. Wise’s specialty has been as an early-down, hand-down defensive end and now, with an influx of athletic edge types, it seems that the team might be looking at other schematic options. Adam Butler, more of an interior pass rush type with a great get-off, has seen more consistent reps with the top group as the right defensive end. Is Wise just still being brought along slowly? He played 41.4 percent of the 2018 defensive snaps and seemed poised to ascend into a bigger full time role this season. But right now it’s safe to wonder if Wise has hit a roadblock, be it injury, scheme or simply performance. Quality reps against the Titans linemen would be a nice boost for Wise heading into Week 2 of the preseason.
Mo Harris was the early darling of training camp wide receivers, catching everything thrown in his direction and winning observers over. But in recent practices Harris has fallen back to earth. Yes, he had a nice touchdown grab against the Lions, but he might’ve had two more as well that dropped to the ground. Those things will happen, but Harris has gone from pushing the envelope back into the murky depths of the wide receiver position battle. He’ll get good competition from the Titans corners, and with N’Keal Harry likely out, he should see plenty of old friends Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Those kind of physical cornerbacks can bring out the best, or worst, of any receiver. That could be just the kind of thing to get Harris back on track…or knock him further off it.
Dorsett is now in year three with the Patriots but has not stood out more than any of the free agents or rookies in camp. In a summer when they’ve really needed receivers to take the next step, Dorsett is still the same guy we’ve seen for two years. He’s quick, makes some good catches when he’s open, but ultimately hasn’t looked like a critical piece who can be relied upon with tough catches when the game is on the line. The physical Titans corners are the kinds that give Dorsett problems so he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s to really take command of a roster spot. Ideally it would be great to feel like Mo Harris or Dorsett has a ceiling higher than a number 3 receiver because it seems like the Pats have a bunch of those right now.
As much as I’d love to think Isaiah Wynn will be a full-go in Nashville, it’s more likely we’ll have to wait until next week for Wynn to get fully immersed. So that leaves us with Dan Skipper, who had a pretty good showing at left tackle against the Lions. He’s not the athlete that Nate Solder or even Trent Brown were, but he does enough to get by. Even if Wynn slips back into to the left tackle spot, it still leaves Skipper with a very good chance to make the team and play as a third tackle. It would be reassuring to see more continued development from the Dante Scarnecchia School of Offensive Lineman. Any positive steps Skipper takes could pay real dividends for the Pats down the road. Getting the chance to see him isolated in one-on-one reps with the Titans pass rushers will be another good barometer if Skipper is a find or merely serviceable.
One of the surprises of camp, Calhoun continues to flirt with the top defense in all situations and was effective against the Lions, logging a sack and a QB hit in 17 snaps. Calhoun was a third-round pick of the Raiders but spent three seasons splitting time between the practice squad, the active roster and the injured reserve before being signed this offseason by the Patriots. His physical fit on the defense is obvious, he fits right in with the long line of those 6-4, 250 pounders who have played outside linebacker. Can Calhoun stack success and build on his two great weeks? Because if he doesn’t the competition is so stiff at the position he might find himself on the outs in New England. He should get a ton of work and plenty of chances to prove how good he really can be.