The Patriots kicked off their three-day, mandatory mini-camp in Foxborough on Tuesday and welcomed back a few familiar faces that had yet to be seen this spring. Matthew Judon, Isaiah Wynn and N'Keal Harry all were present and accounted for after missing the previous workouts that were open to the media.
The Wynn news was significant, not just for his presence but also for how he was used. After spending his first four seasons at left tackle, the former first-round pick lined up exclusively on the right side while both Trent Brown and Yodny Cajuste took snaps on the left side. Brown also missed the most recent practice the media attended and wasn't immediately spotted on Tuesday, but once he appeared he took his spot at left tackle, replacing Cajuste.
The offense went through several periods of work and Wynn remained on the right side throughout, which perhaps is a signal of a change for the upcoming season. Brown played left tackle in 2018, Wynn's rookie year, which the former Georgia standout spent on injured reserve after suffering a torn Achilles during the preseason. Brown turned in the most consistent performance of his career during that Super Bowl run and perhaps the coaches wanted to see if he can recapture that form on the left side.
The interior of the front remained unchanged from the group we saw over the last couple of weeks with David Andrews at center between Mike Onwenu (right) and rookie Cole Strange. The group that followed included, from left to right, Justin Herron, Drew Desjarlais, James Ferentz, Will Sherman and Yasir Durant. Rookies Chasen Hines and Andrew Stueber still have yet to make an appearance this spring.
The offense did significant work on the running game with Matt Patricia leading those periods. Obviously with the team not wearing pads it's difficult to evaluate the blocking and rushing production but the backs were hitting the holes decisively on most plays. As is typically the case, Damien Harris generally finished all of his carries with sprints to the end zone regardless of ball placement on the field.
Beyond Wynn's move to right tackle, here are one man's observations of Tuesday's two-hour mini-camp practice on the lower field in Foxborough.
*Bill Belichick spent more time with the defense after being exclusively with the offense during the two previous practices we got to see. At one point he donned a red cap over his visor as he worked as an edge rusher during some early preparation work for the defense. At various times he was seen standing well behind the secondary during 11-on-11 work, a perch he's often manned over the years while overseeing things. The coach did spend time on offense as well, even serving as the center during one drill.
*Patricia and Joe Judge both worked closely alongside Mac Jones at various stages of the practice. The emphasis was on running early and Patricia seemed to control things, calling the plays for Jones during the drill. Judge later stepped in while the offensive line worked off to the side under Patricia's watch. Later in practice both coaches used walkie-talkies to communicate the plays to Jones, with Patricia finishing up the final few periods seemingly calling the plays. The identity of the play caller as well as the operation of events will continue to be a storyline throughout the spring and summer until the regular season arrives.
*In addition to the rookie offensive linemen, Kendrick Bourne, Byron Cowart and kickers Nick Folk and Quinn Nordin weren't spotted at practice. On Monday there was a report that indicated the Patriots had three kickers in for workouts and there was one wearing the No. 2 on hand on Tuesday. According to NFL Network, that was Tristan Vizcaino, who spent part of 2021 with the Chargers. He will be with the Patriots during mini-camp on a tryout basis.
*The Patriots welcomed members of the Holy Cross coaching staff on Tuesday, including head coach Bob Chesney and wide receivers coach Drew Canan. The Crusaders finished 10-3 in 2021 and advanced to the FCS playoffs, beating Sacred Heart before bowing to Villanova in the second round.
*Robert Kraft was on hand, chatting with director of player personnel Matt Groh early in practice. Ernie Adams, the Patriots legendary research director who retired last spring, was also on hand for practice.
*One of Adams' final duties for the Patriots involved the 2021 draft. Belichick told reporters that Adams was responsible for the final pick that year, which turned out to be wide receiver Tre Nixon. Nixon spent his rookie season on the practice squad but on Tuesday he seemed to take advantage of Bourne's absence and made the most of his chances. He was active throughout the practice and caught several balls from Jones while working in groups that included DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor. Jakobi Meyers was in uniform but was limited as he seemingly is working through some type of ailment. Nixon's best play came on a deep over route toward the left sideline during a 7-on-7 period when he caught a perfect throw from Jones over his outside shoulder just behind Jonathan Jones in coverage. Nixon spoke after practice and stressed the importance of being prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they come, and on Tuesday he seemed to do just that.
*There was significant time spent on special teams as well with the punting unit getting a lot of work. Interesting to see rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, as well as Nixon, working as gunners during some of these drills. Thornton and Nixon won't likely crack to the top four at receiver so they will need to be useful on special teams if they are to carve out roster spots/game day roles. Jack Jones, Myles Bryant, Kyle Dugger and Jonathan Jones all took reps as punt returners. Jack Jones has worked as a returner in every practice the media has attended, although he bobbled one attempt on Tuesday.
*Rookie Kevin Harris looks pretty fluid coming out of the backfield as a receiver. He caught a couple of short swing passes from Jones during an early 7-on-7 period and appeared comfortable doing so. Later in practice Harris dropped an easy short throw in the right flat, however.
*Jones hooked up with his newest veteran receiver Parker on a deep ball down the right sideline during a later 7-on-7 drill. Parker ran slightly behind Jalen Mills on the play and managed to leap over the corner to make the catch inside the sideline. It was the kind of contested catch Parker has made countless times in his career with Miami.
*The defensive backs also made their share of plays during the somewhat competitive practice. Jack Jones was tight in coverage against Ty Montgomery and managed to knock the ball away with an aggressive swipe. The rookie may have felt he was a bit too aggressive on the play because he immediately went to Montgomery and appeared to apologize for perhaps being overzealous. Mills also made a strong defensive play by diving to knock away a pass across the middle intended for Harry.
*Joshuah Bledsoe got some reps in with frontline players during the 7-on-7 work. With safety Jabrill Peppers still limited coming off a torn ACL, the second-year safety out of Missouri was noticeable in a group that included Dugger, Devin McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Mills and Terrance Mitchell.
*Jones had a bit of an uneven day and chose to spend about 45 extra minutes on the field after practice working on his mechanics alongside rookie Bailey Zappe. In addition to the deep balls to Nixon and Parker, he found Jonnu Smith near the left sideline with perfect touch behind the defense for another big gain. But he also misfired toward a wide open Agholor down the left side numbers for what would have been a nice gain, and later he threw well behind Damien Harris down the seam but was bailed out by a terrific twisting catch by the running back, who beat Cameron McGrone in coverage.
*After not wearing anything on his knees/legs in the first two practices, Jones donned a black sleeve on his right calf on Tuesday. It was hard to tell if it was something to protect the calf or a knee brace that had been rolled down.
*Rookie Branden Schooler, a 6-1, 205-pound defensive back out of Texas, spent most of practice working on special teams techniques with Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel.
*Things got slightly heated to close practice as Agholor came across the middle to catch a pass in traffic, only to be stripped by and aggressive Mitchell in coverage. The fumble created some colliding bodies and at one point it looked like Judon and Strange got tangled up. Several players came together and some shouting ensued but things settled down quickly and practice ended.
*At that point the team went to the hill connecting the practice fields and closed things out with some conditioning runs.
*In addition to Nixon, Dugger, Onwenu, Rhamondre Stevenson, Damien Harris, Ronnie Perkins and Josh Uche all spoke to the media after practice.
*Minicamp continues on Wednesday with practice set to begin around 11:45 a.m. The workout is once again open to the media but closed to the public.