The Patriots defense will undergo some significant changes this season and some faces, new and old, were on display during Wednesday's opening training camp session. Admittedly a light session, heavy on learning and continued installation from the spring, the D found themselves in some interesting quasi-competitive situations throughout the morning and already began flashing some playmaking potential.
With openings at cornerback, two members of the secondary showed up with big plays, including an interception by Joejuan Williams and an impressive pass defense by Jalen Mills coming against contested catch monster DeVante Parker. Parker was a problem for much of the day, hauling in three touchdown passes including one against free agent addition Terrance Mitchell as well as another against rookie Jack Jones.
But overall, the secondary held up well through 7-on-7 work, as veteran Malcolm Butler also worked through extensive repetitions along with second-year slot corner Shaun Wade, who saw extensive action with both Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant not present.
Among the edge and linebacker groups, veteran leaders Matthew Judon and Ja'Whaun Bentley are familiar faces that are back and have stepped into leadership roles as they look to help hone some new teammates around them.
"We're laying the foundation right now, a lot of fundamentals," said Judon. "First day, really good. It's always like a family reunion first day, but we're all here just to get better and build a team. We don't know what it's gonna look like this year. But we're out here putting our best foot forward."
"It's nice to do anything football related, anytime you get a chance to get out here and build that camaraderie," said Bentley. "Whether it's pads or no pads, obviously you can't wait to put the pads on, but it's a process, we recognize that, so we're excited for Day One regardless."
Entering his second season with the team, Judon continues to expand his leadership role for the younger members of his group, which includes Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins and rookie DaMarcus Mitchell. In turn, it's helping Judon get an even better grasp of the system and his teammates.
"The coaches kind of know how I think now and we're kind of on the same page," said Judon. "So they're like, 'Okay, well now you can help.' and I think the best way to learn is to coach or to teach. And so as I'm teaching, and they teach me back, they're like, 'Okay, well, this is why I do this, this and this,' and so now we just throw ideas back and forth."
Without a top-heavy, veteran-laden squad, it's time for new blood at the important edge position, where getting after the quarterback is a must. While it's hard to get a read on how things are going before pads and contact begin, Judon expressed confidence that all the young players need is an opportunity.
"They're good football players, they just don't know the NFL, and once they know how to navigate the space and everything that we have here, they're gonna step into the role that we need them to," said Judon.
For his part, edge-favorite Josh Uche is staying locked on his short-term focus to deliver him to his goals.
"I just got to keep my head down, you know, just focus on the step ahead," said Uche following the session. "I got to take things one step at a time. And you know, by the time I look up I'll be where I want to be. So, just one day at a time, one step at a time."