After a three-day reprieve from training camp practices following their opening preseason loss to the Giants, the Patriots were back on the upper fields on Monday with one final tuneup session before the Carolina Panthers come to town for two joint practices and a preseason contest.
Though it was a reduced speed session in shells, there are glimpses of life starting to flash from the offense. After two weeks of install and work against their own teammates, followed by the preseason game with many starters getting the night off, this week should give a useful status update to where the evolving offense is currently at.
On Monday, things clicked along at a nice pace with the offense showing growing confidence.
"It's part of training camp, there's ups, there's downs, I thought we had a pretty good day today but there's some things we have to correct," said David Andrews following the session. Andrews' fiery post-game speech last week was followed by a Tuesday skirmish with Christian Barmore that resulted in both player's practices being cut short. Andrews leadership set an important tone and now, with a game and a practice under their belt since the captain stepped up, the offense brought a level of crispness that might not have been expected following a few days off the fields.
Nelson Agholor shined with an impressive one-handed catch in the back of the end zone, continuing his strong showing this summer, but he was not alone. Jonnu Smith made a number of catches, as did fellow tight end Hunter Henry, while receiver Tre Nixon continued to stay involved after a nice performance against the Giants.
With growing use of motion and different offensive play packages, the Patriots offense is now moving beyond general installation and beginning ever so slightly to lean into their strengths.
"In terms of the level of football you learn working here, in terms of the level of conversation and education you get by having back and forth with it and working, evolving... I've never been around a more flexible football person than Coach, and I say that in a very complimentary way," said quarterbacks coach Joe Judge. "He's flexible in terms of whatever's gonna be best for our team right now and going forward. That's what we're going to work on and that's our job. That's really what's helped me learn to see the game a different way."
Despite the scheme changes that are popping up, Judge was quick to say nothing is set in stone, but simply a continued evolution as prescribed from the head coach down.
"In terms of any system or scheme, it's training camp, we can be looking at a lot of different things in terms of how we can use different systems, maybe some things people have done in the past, things that other people in the league do successfully, how can you use and implement them?" said Judge. "I wouldn't say anything is concrete as far as anything we're working on right now but we're working on building so we can take what's successful for us and expand on that."
No matter where the Patriots offense is in the process, this week figures to be the most useful work of the summer yet.
"Every single year you start over, doesn't matter if you're head coach, position coach, coordinator, whatever it is, I think from the players and a coaching standpoint, there's just a rhythm that you're trying to get into," said Matt Patricia. "And that's why these games are so important for us. And then certainly this week practicing against Carolina, in practice, we'll have a lot of that same sort of communication and rhythm to try to get used to from that standpoint. So these are great opportunities for us because we all need preseason."
For the players, it's a chance to finally hit someone other than their own teammates while also providing new and different looks for them to work through.
"They're probably gonna do some stuff different so I think it's great learning experience," said Andrews of the Panthers. "It really makes you block your rules and it's great competition and it's a great way to come together as a team I feel like."
"I think this will be our first test, yes," said Trent Brown. "I think tomorrow will be our first big test and a nice gauge to see where we are and see what we need to do before Week 1."