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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Aug 17 | 12:00 AM - 11:57 PM

Patriots Mailbag 8/2: Takeaways From the First Five Training Camp Practices 

How do Mac Jones and the Patriots offense look in the early stages of Training Camp?

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The Patriots began week two of Training Camp on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium with the first padded practice of the summer on Monday morning in Foxboro.

New England's defense currently looks ahead of the offense, which is typical for this time of year, and the good news offensively is newcomers such as DeVante Parker are consistently flashing during practice.

With plenty to discuss after five training camp practices, let's answer those mailbag questions:

Hi Evan, your opinion on the offense so far? How much has it changed, and how is the transition going? Thank you - @Talrain79

The best way to describe the current state of the Patriots offense is a work in progress. I'm not ready to make any grand proclamations after five practices, and some of the things they are doing take time to develop a rhythm, but the operation is disjointed at the moment. My biggest takeaway is that their running game and play-action concepts look very different so far, and I've never seen head coach Bill Belichick this involved in coaching offense. However, it wouldn't surprise me if all this talk about an offensive scheme shift means nothing in a few months. We'll see.

Could the Patriots offense feature more run-pass options this season? - Grant from Nebraska

We haven't consumed enough football yet to say that the Patriots are leaning heavily into running a specific system or scheme on offense. However, I will continue to advocate for them to run more RPOs with Mac moving forward. In his final season at Alabama, 19 percent of Jones's passes came off RPO schemes, and Jones was prolific on those throws: 73-of-78 for 890 yards, ten touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Before you say it, these aren't the RPOs where the quarterback is a running threat. Instead, it's essentially glorified play-action, where the offensive line carries out their run blocks while a route or route combination is happening on the outside. The quarterback makes a post-snap read, usually at the first and second levels of the defense, and either hands the ball off to the running back or throws a pass.

Who will start at edge defender opposite Matthew Judon this season? - David Gonsiorowski

One of the early storylines from training camp that caught the eye is how the Patriots will handle replacing veteran Kyle Van Noy, who played 80.5 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago. Early on in camp, there are signs that the Pats could deploy Judon, Ja'Whaun Bentley, and Raekwon McMillan, with Bentley potentially playing more snaps on the line of scrimmage. McMillan has been a constant in the middle of the first unit, while Bentley's role might be changing slightly to keep him out of foot races in space. Third-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings has also flashed at times, while offseason addition Mack Wilson also brings some juice. Jennings had three disruptions on consecutive plays in Saturday's practice and set the edge nicely in the first padded practice. It seems like Josh Uche is heading towards a situational pass-rusher role.

Based on these few practices, who are the favorites to start at cornerback? - @mariglen_mjesh

Although Malcolm Butler got more opportunities in Monday's practice, the first four days saw a clear trend where Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell were the leaders in the clubhouse to start at outside corner. Mills is having a solid start to camp, breaking up several passes, and consistently having tight coverage on everyone. Mitchell looks like a steady option similar to Mills, or someone like Jason McCourty, holding his own thanks to great instincts and a high IQ. Butler had a back-and-forth battle with DeVante Parker on Monday where he did break up a pass on an end zone fade, but the rust still seems to be there with him at times. Rookie Jack Jones has a chance to contribute this season, but it might not be until the second half of the year. Lastly, I wouldn't expect anyone to unseat Jonathan Jones in the slot.

How will the Patriots match up against teams with multiple receiving threats without a true number one corner? - @James27152778

This is a question that I've been thinking about while taking in training camp practices over the last week. Mills and Mitchell have been competitive to the point where you feel good about them functioning within the system. But what happens when they play the Bills or Dolphins? They can't provide safety help to everyone. We could see more two-deep safety shells this season, where they play bracket-style coverage to each outside corner. The two-deep coverages would leave them a man short in the box against the run, but that's a trade-off they might need to live with until someone proves they can take elite-level receivers on an island. We also saw the Pats transition to more zone coverage during their seven-game winning streak a year ago, which is another option to keep guys out of single coverage.

Any surprise players you see making the final roster? I think Wilkerson definitely deserves a shot on the 53-man roster. - @KSRealmKyle

Wilkerson has a battle on his hands with Tre Nixon also fighting for a roster spot at wide receiver, and I'd currently give a slight edge to Nixon, who is trying to carve out a special teams role as well. Regarding surprises, I've liked what we've seen from undrafted rookie LaBryan Ray through five practices. We've only seen one padded practice, but Ray found his way into the backfield a few times, and he looks like a sturdy early-down option against the run. Sixth-round pick Sam Roberts has also popped with an explosive first step and good pad level. I also thought former CFL All-Star Drew Desjarlais held his own at guard in the first padded practice, and vet Ty Montgomery is trending towards roster lock.

Is Jakobi Meyers a surprise cut or trade candidate before the season starts? - @Dale07149987

Although DeVante Parker continues to emerge at wide receiver, I'm not ready to hear any hot takes about Jakobi Meyers. He's still one of the more reliable options for Mac Jones in these practices and always seems to give him a quick completion here or there. Four veteran receivers are competing for three significant roles in the offense. Parker burned Butler down the left sideline for the play of the day offensively on Monday and also made an acrobatic catch against Butler in one-on-ones, where he adjusted back to the throw and caught the ball at its apex. At this early juncture, it seems more likely that rookie Tyquan Thornton makes Nelson Agholor expendable rather than Mayers being the odd man out (more on Thornton later).

Any areas of the roster you see a need for additions before the season starts? - @CKolouch

It's pretty early to start thinking about major roster holes, and their depth seems pretty solid at the moment. Although they're tight on cap space, the move that feels like it's looming is something similar to the Aqib Talib acquisition at the 2012 trade deadline. That secondary was similar in that it had serviceable corners to eat up snaps but was missing that top-tier talent to shadow number one receivers. Talib came in and completely altered the course of that defense, which might be the move the Patriots look to make down the road.

How has rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton looked in the initial Training Camp practices? - Marc Saez

There's a lot to like from Thornton so far. Based on the eye test, his speed is legit. He looks explosive off the line and better in and out of his breaks than expected. Although he doesn't have the speed to hang with Thornton, the Pats put Joejuan Williams in press coverage against the rookie in Monday's practice to try to jam him up. Thornton ran by Williams and finished through some contact on a great go ball from Mac Jones. If Thornton consistently finished through contact as he did on that play, the Patriots might've found something there. Using him as a vertical slot receiver would also add an intriguing element.

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