When Nate Solder left New England via free agency last year, the Patriots immediately sought to replace him by trading for veteran Trent Brown and drafting rookie Isaiah Wynn. Brown, the favorite to win the job at the start of training camp, went on the start every game for the eventual Super Bowl LIII Champions. Although he likely would have been named Solder's replacement anyway, Wynn's Achilles injury in Week 2 of the preseason certainly made the decision easier for the coaching staff.
This past offseason, Brown cashed in during free agency like Solder before him, leaving the left tackle position once again vacant. Wynn is certainly a frontrunner for the spot, but he missed spring practices while still recovering from his injury. Through seven training camp practices, he has been limited to drill periods and hasn't taken competitive snaps in 11-on-11 action. The coaching staff appears to be taking a cautious approach with Wynn.
During the spring, left guard Joe Thuney, who hasn't missed a game or a snap since the team drafted him in 2016, slid over to the left tackle position while the likes of James Ferentz and Ted Karras occupied his guard spot. In training camp, however, Thuney has predominantly stayed put at left guard, giving the o-line continuity at four out of five positions, for the most part.
Center David Andrews missed the first few days of camp for an unspecified reason, but has since been steadily working his way back to full-time duty.
"It's good to get back out here," Andrews told reporters Thursday. "I had something I was dealing with. [I'm] a little bit behind. Kind of those first two days are really, you kind of start knocking the rust off, and those are kind of my days right now. I've got a lot of work to do to catch up, so just keep moving along, keep stringing them together here before we go down to Detroit [next week]."
Meanwhile, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon are taking their regular snaps at right guard and tackle, respectively. That leaves left tackle a giant question mark at the moment.
When asked about his level of concern about Wynn and that particular position, head coach Bill Belichick offered a typically circumspect response.
"There's a reason why everything happens in camp, yeah. We take everything day-to-day. We have a lot of things that we need to work on, in every area of the team; everything. So, I don't think I feel good about anything right now. I don't feel necessarily bad about it. We'll see how it is. Start to find out when we're in competitive situations in the next couple weeks. Might not really know where we are on some things until the middle of the season. I don't know, we'll see."
The past couple of days, it seems Dan Skipper has been given an opportunity to line up alongside Thuney and the other regulars. The young player from the University of Arkansas was signed to New England's practice squad during the playoff run last season and has gone through his first offseason program with the organization. Since entering the league in 2017, he's bounced around between Dallas, Detroit, and Denver before landing in Foxborough.
"They know what they're doing – who to block, how to get there, and where each other's at," the 6-9, 325-pound Skipper said of his four experienced partners on the o-line, "and I've got to get up to speed and get better each day. We've got the best coach you can get. Coach [Dante Scarnecchia] cares about us, and I've got Joe next to me. He's been awesome, helping me get on the same page, get caught up to speed with the rest of the guys."
"Skip's a hard working kid," Belichick remarked. "He's got a lot of length, pretty athletic for his size. Doesn't have a lot of experience. Played right tackle, played right guard last year in Detroit. He's worked on the left tackle, he's also played right tackle. But he works hard, he gets better every day, and we'll see."
"We all have a lot of work to do, we all have a lot to improve on," added Andrews. "Unfortunately, that's just part of this game. People move on. You can't keep a team together anymore. That's just part of it. It's part of the NFL. We all just have to buy in, keep improving, keep working together."
Fun in the sun
The hot, humid weather these past few days has been unrelenting, making long practices seem even tougher to endure, both for players and spectators alike. So, to inject some levity back into the proceedings, toward the end of Thursday's session, Belichick literally flipped the script. For a handful of 11-on-11 goal line plays, the defensive personnel went on offense and the offensive players had to defend the end zone.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore took snaps at QB from the shotgun and saw one of his passes to LB-turned-WR Jamie Collins fall incomplete, though there was controversy about whether a pass interference flag should have been thrown against WR-turned-CB Maurice Harris.
"We actually had some good plays drawn up. We had a couple guys who didn't believe in what we were doing, and that's all I'll say. That really hurt us as a group," safety Devin McCourty joked afterward, "but our first play was a touchdown [run by Jonathan Jones]. Bill makes it hard. We've got to go two-for-three. When we've got to score two touchdowns out of three, I mean, if we throw one bad pass it's – so, maybe next year."
Convos with Collins
Collins may not have come down with that touchdown today, but he made time to speak with the media after practice – something that's become commonplace this summer for the normally reticent linebacker. During his first stint with New England, Collins rarely granted interviews, but now seems to enjoy the back-and-forth.
"Talking to you guys more. It's like my fifth, sixth [interview] that I've done," he gushed. "I don't think I did that many when I was here [the first time]. I'm trying things in general and as a man.
"That's life. Hopefully everyone grows. No one stays the same. That's what we're all here for, to mature and keep pushing, learn stuff every day, keep improving. I come out here, put my head down, and I work."
Buy: The D – It's been a strong start the camp overall for the defense. Case in point: Today during goal-line work, the D stopped the O short of the goal line on three consecutive running plays.
Sell: Joejuan Williams – The rookie second-round draft pick hasn't really done a lot to stand out in a bad way at cornerback (although he did surrender a long TD pass to fellow rookie N'Keal Harry Thursday), but hasn't opened eyes with any spectacular plays, either, during his first week of camp.
Play of the Day: Rookie WR Jakobi Meyers scored a TD in a most creative way Thursday. As raced down the left sideline, he was closely guarded by cornerback Keion Crossen. Rookie QB Jarrett Stidham floated the ball in Meyers' direction, but safety Patrick Chung came racing over to help Crossen. Meyers, however, managed to leap between the two defenders, tip the ball over their heads, and collect it before it could hit the ground. Meyers then calmly walked into the end zone to finish the scoring play.