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Patriots Mailbag: Joint practices will be telling for Patriots

Patriots fans are starting to wonder how the joint practices and remaining preseason games will factor into roster building.

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Bailey Zappe showed a lot of promise against the New York Giants on Friday night, I thought he made 70 percent good decisions and 30 percent bad decisions but I feel the most impressive things on view were the way he kept his nerve being in a NFL game environment and the fact that he is so obviously a gamer which is a hard to find trait that can't be taught. What did you think of the way the young rookie quarterback played and how he conducted himself under the very bright NFL lights?Marc Saez

Joe Judge was very complimentary of Zappe when he spoke with the media before Monday's practice, saying he just had an innate understanding of the game, knowing things you can't really teach. Zappe was put to the test by the heavy blitzing of the Giants defense, something that Mac Jones must've thought looked familiar after the way Brian Flores and the Dolphins came after him during his rookie season opener. Zappe showed good poise, especially on the final touchdown, standing tall in the face of the pressure and putting the ball where his receiver could make a play on it. Overall, Zappe's summer might not be quite as impressive as Mac's was last year, but he's made plenty of really nice throws, despite having some size limitations. Of course, things are about to get way more interesting and telling with the arrival of joint practices. While Mac and the starters should eat up a lot of the key reps, Zappe should still get some of his most useful work of the summer. We'll see how much playing time he gets on Friday night but it wouldn't be surprising to still see him play a half-plus of action. -Mike Dussault

What position group on the team has the biggest gap between your assumption on how they would perform in training camp versus how they actually performed? -Scott Brogan

I'd probably go with the defensive line since I didn't have many expectations beyond Christian Barmore, but they've been one of the most interesting groups of camp. Davon Godchaux's contract extension might've been somewhat surprising at the time, but his play this summer has been really good and backed up that deal. He's making life really hard on the new running scheme. Also add in rookie UDFA LaBryan Ray, who has popped in practice 1-on-1's, as well as Sam Roberts, who has been somewhat quiet in practice yet popped in the game, and there are two potential rookie gems. Carl Davis has also been a sizable force at the nose tackle spot, while Lawrence Guy continues to be the veteran anchor. Not much changed from last year to this year in this group, and thus I was kind of lukewarm on what to expect, but at least as far as internal practice has gone, they've looked like a strength of the team. I'm looking forward to seeing how it translates to the game field. -Mike Dussault

So far it was hard to tell if the offense struggled because our D was good. Or our D was good because our offense is bad. Or vice versa. Can you tell if the O is objectively good or bad? What about the D? -@NickPavlidis

Generally, I give an advantage to the defense in training camp early, with a core understanding that it's easier to destroy than create, especially when the offense is trying to create something entirely new. But with that said, it's especially hard to judge with the Patriots because they're so gameplan specific on both sides of the ball. To boil it down, I'd say for the majority of padded practices it has been the offense that was leaving the field feeling frustrated at the end. I think that's telling. But I'd also point out that the defense also now has some players who can win one-on-one, and that can be game-changing for a defense. I'll give the offense a pass for now, because it will look a lot better than the clunky moments of practice as they continue to lock in on what they're going to do. At the same time, I think there are some exciting things to take from what the defense has done… the disruption, the plays on the ball… they've been getting after it any way you cut it. -Mike Dussault

QB Bailey Zappe in his first NFL action against the NY Giants
QB Bailey Zappe in his first NFL action against the NY Giants

Still watching the CBs. Does Jack Jones make a push for playing time? Does Butler shake off the rust and make the team? Also DE. Does Anfernee Jennings take snaps with the first team after his strong preseason debut? -@OFFICIAL_TRUCK

I think Jack Jones and Anfernee Jennings are two of the most intriguing young players in camp. Jones continues to get the jump on passes. He got burned once against the Giants but also made a nice PBU. That continued into practice on Monday when he had another PBU in team drills. Jones' ability to read the throw keeps popping up and is an indication that we could have a young ballhawk on our hands. He might be a little skinny, but he's quick and feisty enough to overcome it.

As for Jennings, he was a forgotten man from 2020 when he played a lot out of the gate but at a new position where he didn't quite turn heads. Now, playing where he played in college, on the edge, he looks like he's fully able to use his size and growing experience to make plays. He's slowly ascended to a point now where he looks like the second stand-up edge after Judon on the roster. We knew he was big and stout, but his pass rush ability has been the biggest surprise. He could be a really important defensive player this season. -Mike Dussault

Do you think Lil'Jordan could take the place of a tight end in the 53-man squad and Bill might just go with Henry and Jonnu Smith as the only two traditional tight ends. -@Shreeshas2

If I felt like Henry or Smith were more blockers than receivers I might believe in this scenario but I think it's still more about Meyers and Nixon, the top two slot receivers on the depth chart right now. Humphrey certainly looks like a tight end, I mistake him for one almost every day when taking attendance at the start of practice, and he's been coming on of late, especially after his preseason performance. I'm not sure how much the Patriots think they need an element like his size as part of the receiver group, they already have some good contested-catch options. He'll need to keep up the strong performances to stay in the roster conversation, but he also might fall between the cracks and end up on the practice squad as well. ­-Mike Dussault

Do Nixon, Asasi, Bledsoe, Wade, Ray and Sam Roberts all make the team in your opinion? -@ashley1992

This is a murderer's row of bubble players! All have showed up this summer with some exciting plays and there's an argument to be made for all of them to make it. Ray and Roberts should be under the radar enough to keep around, though I think either one could earn a 53-man roster spot. Bledsoe has been getting a ton of run despite a loaded safety group that might run at least four deep above him. Wade has been a late riser with a solid preseason game, while Nixon has slowly recaptured the momentum he had this spring when Meyers was out and he got a lot of opportunities. Finally, Asiasi has been fighting an injury which muddies his chances. For me, I'm locking in on Wade over this final two weeks, as his potential is starting to intrigue me and the long-term depth at cornerback is tenuous. Overall, I think there might be two legit roster spots, maybe just one, for this group. -Mike Dussault

CB Malcolm Butler recovers a fumble against the NY Giants
CB Malcolm Butler recovers a fumble against the NY Giants

With the full corner room, who do you see as a surprise cut candidate and who could sneak onto the roster? The rotation at RG is curious. Do you think this is depth building or are there concerns with Onwenu's fit with the changes? What's your impression of Thornton so far? -@ChaoticChord

I'm still unsure if Malcolm Butler still has it, so put him down as a potential surprise cut, while perhaps Shaun Wade, for reasons mentioned above, could be one to sneak on. There's been less screwing around at RG in recent practices. Onwenu has been in there pretty much full time. Right tackle is the question spot now, with Wynn and Herron hurt. Cajuste looks like the next man up there. As for Thornton, I've really enjoyed seeing his progression on the field. His speed jumps out but it's his route running, toughness and hands that have progressed and impressed me the most. The Patriots might really have a game changer on their hands with him. -Mike Dussault

Any correlation to the lack of starters in the Giants game, padded practices and goal line drills to the team fading down the stretch the past few years? -@g7on

Hard to tell what's going on. The flame outs over the last few seasons was definitely on my mind with this perhaps being a slightly lighter summer for the Patriots. Certainly in contrast to what we're seeing with the Lions in Hard Knocks. But I'm not ready to call this a soft summer yet. With two weeks of joint practices coming up, we'll see exactly how nuts they get. I'd anticipate these will be far more telling of who the 2022 Patriots are than what we've seen in the first 11 practice. -Mike Dussault

First of all, thank you for the continuous, unrelenting updates regarding the state of the franchise, it is well appreciated! I would love to know your current take regarding Cameron McGrone. He played quite a lot in the first tilt and I saw no egregious mistakes but nothing outstanding either. Your thoughts? -Richard Farkas

Looks to me like he's still getting his feet under him after being injured last season. I know a lot of people were hyping him up as a potential replacement at linebacker this year but it seems Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson are well above McGrone at this point. That doesn't mean to give up on him just yet, but we could be looking at another year behind the scenes for him unless some significant injuries strike. -Mike Dussault

Is Zappe more likely bound for the roster or practice squad? Is Hoyer firmly entrenched, or is there value (money, roster spot) in letting him go? If Jones is out for a long period, I'm not convinced Hoyer can keep them afloat. Is his value as a mentor overstated? -@MioInput

I thought Hoyer looked good during the game against the Giants! Honestly, it was as efficient as the passing game has looked in an extended stretch since training camp began. For that reason, I think Hoyer would be the guy in a pinch, Zappe's just too green at this point. Otherwise, why have Hoyer around if you didn't feel like you could trust him to start a couple games? Given the turnover on offense and Hoyer's extensive experience in multiple systems, I think his importance might be getting understated. Only those behind the scenes truly know how much of an impact the veteran is having on Mac and Zap. I'd venture a guess that it's very significant and why Hoyer isn't going anywhere. -Mike Dussault

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