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Notebook: Pats vet linebackers setting the tone

After two strong performances against the Giants in joint practices, the Patriots linebacker group looks deep, talented and ready to lead the way.

Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54).

The Patriots top defenders saw extensive reps against the Giants in Thursday's joint practice session, as the heavy workload in muggy conditions made for a challenging day, both physically and mentally. But they continued their strong summer stretch, with the veteran linebackers leading the way and getting plenty of pressure on quarterback Daniel Jones early and often. It was the kind of day that should echo throughout the season and jumpstart their preparedness.

"I'd be lying if I said I enjoyed it," said Dont'a Hightower of the challenging session. "But it's definitely one of those things you appreciate whenever you're done, knowing there's going to be games like that. Adversity, mental toughness, sometimes it's better to have those natural occurrences instead of coach setting them up."

"We are talented but we got a lot of work to do and we all know that," said Kyle Van Noy after the practice. "I think that's what makes this group talented and special. We push each other, a lot of competition.

"We keep building the foundation right now in training camp, each day we keep working and working."

After 2020 was filled with a lot of youth and inexperience at the linebacker position, the returns of Hightower and Van Noy along with the addition of Matt Judon have meshed well with the development of Ja'Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche and Chase Winovich, while Anfernee Jennings and Harvey Langi continue to push for roles as well. In all, it's a deep and well-balanced group and one that is enticing for the regular season.

"They can handle a lot more," said Bill Belichick last week of his veteran linebackers. "Adjustments, and things like that on the field. Once you see your offense come out of the huddle and see where guys are aligned and what formation they're in, you know a lot more than you do when you call the defense on the sidelines...

"It certainly helps to have players with the experience. Then they just have to understand what the tools are and when to use which tool and make sure we're all on the same page with it. They can just do a lot more than guys with less experience for the most part."

While the offense continues to get the bulk of the attention, the defense's performance over the last two days should not be lost. They look poised to carry over a strong set of joint practices into the final preseason game and start of the regular season.

"Any time that you can come in and have a pretty good practice the first day, then come out and replicate that [it's good]," said Hightower. "We feel confident not having seen the film, there's always going to be corrections, but it's just been a great experience going against [the Giants]."

5 takeaways from Giants joint practice no. 2

  1. All eyes were on Cam Newton's return and while he took the initial reps in team drills, he would play just one series in the competitive periods. It was a solid performance in his return after five days away from the team. Newton showed little rust from the time away, but it was still surprising to see such limited work in what is one of the final two chances to go against a live opponent. The question now is how much does Newton play on Sunday night. He's played just a handful of series in the previous two preseason games, does he get an extended opportunity in the game? It doesn't seem like they've really gotten much of an extended look at Newton this summer at all.
  2. The Giants defense switched some things up on Jones today and he was far less effective than he was during Wednesday's session. His struggles connecting with his receivers in the seams continued, including an interception thrown. "Yesterday I got a lot of reps and it was great," said Jones after practice. "We communicated and I felt like we were in a really good flow. I kind of got into a game flow. Today, it was a little bit harder to just get into that...They made some good adjustments with their safeties." Still, Jones did have his moments, capping off his 20-plus play drive by finding Kendrick Bourne in the back of the end zone. It was a nice throw and a nice adjustment by Bourne to break off his route then secure the catch while getting both feet down. Bourne had a strong finish to the preseason.
  3. The pass protection wasn't quite up to the level it was at on Wednesday, and that was some of the reason why Jones and offense struggled. Losing David Andrews midway through practice didn't help either as Andrews was carted from the medical area after being checked out. While we will no longer get to watch practice, we'll be able to see the brief stretching window from here on out and we'll be keeping an eye out for the valuable center.
  4. The Giants offense was better today, but I still wonder how many plays would've been blown dead due to pressure getting to Daniel Jones pretty much throughout the practice. As mentioned above, there's a growing groundswell of excitement for this remade defensive front. Kyle Van Noy was particularly productive in Thursday's session.
  5. That's a wrap on training camp for us and it was a fun one, especially watching a young quarterback make daily strides and impressive throws in nearly every practice. There's a lot to be intrigued by -- the running back group, the defensive front, the new tight ends -- but how it all comes together in the regular season is still unknown. But based on what we saw this summer, there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2021 Patriots and beyond.

Report: Ravens rookie cornerback on the way

According to a report from Ian Rapoport, the Patriots are trading for rookie cornerback Shaun Wade, a fifth-round pick by the Ravens who has already picked off a pass this preseason. With Stephon Gilmore still on PUP and missing all of training camp, it was a needed move, with the depth being further tested by an injury to Jonathan Jones.

Wade has good size, played inside and outside as a cornerback, and has special teams potential but struggled in his final season with the Buckeyes as an outside corner. Unfortunately, with training camp now over, we won't get much of a look at him before Tuesday's final cutdown but as injury questions add up, he could get some extra consideration.

Quotes of Note

Kristian Wilkerson on his training camp mindset:

"Everybody has ups and downs so it's just fighting through and being mentally tough is the only thing you can do. I'm trying to do that and just show that I can be mentally tough on the field."

Dont'a Hightower on Mac Jones:

"He's a terrific kid, he works hard, real smart dude. He's going to go over the edge. Been impressed with him in OTAs and how hard he works. Found out yesterday he's been looking at [our] defensive plays so he can conceptually see how we work. I give him credit for that, not a lot of young guys would see that as an opportunity and he did that on his own."

Brian Hoyer on Mac Jones presnap ability:

"I've been very impressed with his mental capacity. There's a lot being thrown at the quarterback in the offense. He's always asking a lot of great questions. Sometimes I say something and he's like 'I got it, I got it' and sure enough he does. He goes out there and makes a call and I'm like there's no way I would've made that call as a rookie quarterback, just to have the confidence and knowledge to go out there and execute it."

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