The media got its first look at the 2021 Patriots as they hit the practice field on Thursday for some OTA work at Gillette Stadium. All eyes were on rookie Mac Jones as he worked with the three other quarterbacks – Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer – and how things were divided among that group.
Jones got his share of reps, showing a quick release at times and generally displaying solid accuracy. Obviously he has a lot to learn as he gets his professional career underway.
"He dove into the playbook and continues to do that," Belichick said of Jones.
Meanwhile, the idea of getting enough work for four quarterbacks is something on everyone's mind, including Belichick.
"It's hard to get everybody the right amount of work or high volume," he said. "I think you just try to balance that out, give everybody an opportunity, spread the reps out.
"[Right now] feel like all those players are good players. Brian has the most experience. Cam had a lot of experience last year. Jarrett has had some off-and-on opportunities. He'll continue to get opportunities and so will Mac. We'll just see how it goes."
It was interesting to watch the dynamics among the quarterbacks as many of the periods featured all four working together and alternating from play to play. There were drills that saw them break up and it was worth noting the Newton and Jones worked together while Stidham and Hoyer stayed together elsewhere. Not sure if there is anything to be drawn from those combinations but on the surface I would have thought Hoyer and Jones would be together so the rookie could learn from the veteran's experience while Newton and Stidham worked separately. That's something I'll be watching for in the coming weeks.
The Patriots worked for roughly 90 minutes on a picture-perfect Thursday morning, and here are one man's observations of what took place.
*One item to monitor over the coming weeks will be the status of Dont'a Hightower. He's been the subject of speculation of late, and Peter King of FMIA fame indicated his return after a year off is in question. Belichick was asked if Hightower was all in and expected to at training camp prior to Thursday's workout, and the coach opted with a broader answer instead.
"My expectations are that they intend to play but we know things can change. That's part of life, that's part of football," Belichick said. "Each guy has his own circumstances, so I'm not going to get into that, but we'll see how it goes on for some of the players that aren't here, which there's a number of them that aren't, but we'll welcome them when they get here. It's all voluntary. So, when they're here, they're here and we'll work with them."
*Hightower wasn't the only player not on the field for the workout. There were roughly two dozen players not spotted, mostly veterans. The NFLPA went to great lengths trying to convince its membership to skip the voluntary workouts and several teams, including the Patriots, indicating they would be doing so. It's unclear if the players who weren't on the field were missing for injury reasons or other factors.
*Always fun to watch the quarterbacks taking part in bucket drills and we caught a glimpse of that on Thursday. All four alternated throwing deep fades from the 20 into the back left corner of the end zone. The quartet went around six times and none managed to sink one. At one point Hunter Henry joined in on the fun and tried a few throws of his own, but he met similar results.
*Random observation: Team PU felt N'Keal Harry looked a bit thinner in his No. 15 jersey. No real conclusion to draw from that but there was agreement that he looked slightly smaller than his listed 225 pounds.
*Matt Patricia was on the field for the entire practice wearing a long-sleeve gray T-shirt and red Patriots cap with his trademark pencil over his ear. He spent a lot of time with Belichick and moved around among position groups. Most of his time seemed to be spent with the lines on both sides of the ball.
*There was a lot of special teams work, mostly involving the punting units, and Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers and J.J. Taylor handled the kicks without any problems. Assistant special teams coach Joe Houston spent a lot og time working on techniques with gunners during those periods.
*Newcomers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne took part in the practice and looked smooth and quick while running their routes. Both saw plenty of reps and had several balls thrown their way, and both looked the part. Bourne showed great quickness during a drill working against defensive players 1-on-1, making a sharp cut to move into the clear. Agholor showed some straight-line speed as well, which should be a welcomed sight for a corps that is lacking in that department.
*The Patriots released fullback Danny Vitale and signed tight end Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli, a third-year player out of Wisconsin who spent 2019-20 with Denver, was on the field wearing No. 88. He took part fully in drills and appeared to settle in nicely.
Presenting some photos from Patriots OTAs on Thursday, May 27, 2021.
*The kickers also saw plenty of work and both Roberto Aguayo and Quinn Nordin seemed to make most of their attempts. Nordin in particular showed impressive leg strength with the ball rocketing off his foot on all of his attempts. The velocity of his kicks really stood out, and his accuracy was impressive as well.
*Belichick offered some praise for Adam Vinatieri prior to the practice. Vinatieri officially retired on Wednesday, bringing to close arguably the greatest kicking career in NFL history – at least that's how Belichick feels.
"Really the best of all-time. Consistency, ability to handle clutch situations, make the biggest kicks, longevity of his career is just remarkable," Belichcik gushed. "Such a pleasure to be with Adam in his rookie year in '96. Made so many big kicks, we were in so many close games, his ability to put points on the board was incredibly valuable and obviously the first kick in a Snow Bowl to tie it, it has to go down as one of the great kicks of all time, if not the greatest.
"And then, two game winning kicks in Super Bowls just doesn't get any bigger than that but one thing with Adam, you never felt the pressure of the moment and he certainly didn't seem to, so it gave me and our team great confidence and again, I was very, very fortunate to have a player of his caliber in my time as a head coach. And then as I said, before and after we had some pretty good ones too, but Adam was really, really special. So, tribute to him and his great career and one that I'm sure will place him in the Hall of Fame in five years. That's where he should be."