It's a tiny bit of information in the overall process, but each OTA session open to the media does offer up some indication of the early stages of the roster-building evolution.
Sure it's far more learning than competition/evaluation at his point. Still, most coaches will tell you that if you are not getting better you are getting worse.
With that age-old cliché in mind, here's a look at how some Patriots are trending through five OTA workouts, including Thursday's work in front of reporters.
J.C. Jackson – The undrafted rookie cornerback out of Maryland took reps opposite Stephon Gilmore on Thursday. He was competitive. Does this mean he's going to be a starter? No. On the roster? No. It just means he's getting good opportunities in his early days in New England.
Jordan Matthews – Matthews has been a productive player when healthy in his first four NFL seasons. As he learns the Patriots offense it's a good sign that he's on the field, getting reps and making plays. He caught a nice touchdown on a spot-throw in the back corner of the end zone. Sure, it would be better if the pass had come from Tom Brady and not Brian Hoyer, but Matthews is getting work done and that's good enough at this point.
Duke Dawson – The Patriots second-round pick was penciled in by some as the possible top option to compete in the slot. On the practice field he's getting early reps in that job surrounded by top returning talent.
Jason King – Though the former practice squader was actually cut earlier this offseason, this week he was working at left guard next to David Andrews. Maybe it was just his day to rotate through reps at Joe Thuney's spot. Or maybe King is making a run at a depth roster spot.
Rex Burkhead – The veteran running back has had a solid spring, looking every bit the versatile option that he can be. It's good that he's healthy. It's good that he's catching the ball well, even downfield a bit. He could be in line for the Dion Lewis-like role as New England's lead back.
Dont'a Hightower – Seeing the linebacker and captain back on the field at this early stage in the process is a huge positive. He didn't appear to have any physical limitations, looked to be in good shape and was running well. He's such a key cog on the defense it's great when he's on the field, even just in OTAs.
Cyrus Jones – The third-year former second-round cornerback was not on the practice field Thursday as he works back from a torn ACL last August. Jones first two seasons in New England were far from ideal. He could be in a fight for a roster spot. Right now, he's not even on the field to fight while fellow 2017 preseason torn ACL teammates Julian Edelman and Derek Rivers are getting practice work done with little or no limitations.
Jason McCourty – The veteran newcomer just hasn't been getting many reps at cornerback in the workouts open to the media. Though he's a proven veteran elsewhere, Bill Belichick often tempers his comments on an arriving player saying he hasn't even worked with him yet. You would think McCourty would need/want as many reps as possible to work into the Patriots defense. Maybe the team is just giving young players at the position early chances to see what they have. Or maybe McCourty will end up in a training camp fight for a job. Either way, his lack of reps is worth noting.
Jomal Wiltz/Ryan Lewis – The two young practice squad corners have been getting plenty of early rotational reps. This week, though, neither made the most of them. Wiltz muffed a punt and struggled at times in coverage when he had chances to make plays. Lewis was successfully picked on by Hoyer in the red zone. The youngsters have potential but need to pick up the execution.
Braxton Berrios – The rookie slot receiver spent part of practice working on the rehab field. He's going to face a tough battle to earn a job in New England and missing early practice reps is not a great way to lay the foundation for a late-round pick to make the roster. It's early, but Berrios needs to stay on the field if he's going to stick.
Malcolm Mitchell – Speaking of receivers not staying on the field, photos showed Mitchell in OTA action nearly on but he's not been in attendance the two times the media observed workouts. After missing all of his second season on IR, the oft-injured receiver could be falling behind in a somewhat crowded wide receiver depth chart.
Sony Michel/Jeremy Hill/Mike Gillislee – There are jobs, roles and roster spots to be had in the committee backfield. So far, though, guys have been standing out more for mistakes than playmaking. The rookie and both veterans all did things to draw the ire of running backs coach Ivan Fears on Thursday. Michel had a fumble in a ball security drill. Hill had an ugly drop on a short pass. Gillislee struggled with some footwork in bag drills. All three can be much better than what they showed on Thursday.
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