There are times during training camp when the daily grind can be reminiscent of Groundhog Day. The sounds, drills, players and coaches all remain largely the same each practice, and only the execution of the individuals distinguishes one day's work from another.
There's a routine to the various goings-on, and even those of us who are simply watching every day can be lulled into it after a while.
Then all of sudden things can take on a dramatically different look, as was the case late in Thursday's practice. The Patriots finished the final 11-on-11 work with some goal line reps, which in and of itself isn't uncommon. In fact it was just two days ago, the last time the team was in full pads, when the offense and defense went at it in live goal line situations.
But there was one rep that was different, and running back J.J. Taylor was the unfortunate recipient. The undrafted rookie out of Arizona took a handoff and was met forcefully short of the end zone by a couple of Patriots defenders. It appeared as if Terez Hall delivered the big hit, spinning the diminutive Taylor like and top and causing a stir among his teammates.
Taylor never had a chance to make it in for the touchdown, but the sound of the hit reverberated around the practice fields unlike any other thus far this summer. It was a taste of football we haven't seen – a good, hard, clean, live tackle – and it was the highlight of the day.
That wasn't the only play the defense got the better of things in what has become the theme of camp thus far. The offense continued to struggled regardless of which quarterback was at the helm, with the secondary clamping down on most of the receivers on a regular basis.
Here's a look at some other observations from Thursday's two-hour practice.
*All three quarterbacks continue to rotate in and out of drills but Thursday seemed to be a time for Cam Newton to gain a little more traction. Newton is still finding his way in the offense and still doesn't appear to have a full grasp on everything, but he has shown signs of improving seemingly every day. He did miss on a potential deep shot to Jakobi Meyers down the right side in 11-on-11 down and distance work, but he looked more comfortable in the pocket and again showed amazing arm strength. There was an interesting sequence later when Newton's deep comeback to an open Damiere Byrd was a little late, and the wideout dropped a very catchable ball. Newton motioned toward Byrd to stay where he was and threw it back in his direction, completing the connection this time before they headed back to the huddle.
*Meanwhile Jarrett Stidham again had some trouble with interceptions, but honestly some of them seem to come on plays when the quarterback seems to be simply executing the play as it is supposed to be run. Brian Hoyer spoke after practice about the need for quarterbacks to try different throws in a practice setting in order to understand what both the quarterbacks and receivers can potentially do in games. It would be interesting to hear if any of the picks from Stidham were thrown with that in mind.
*Two rookie wide receivers have been added to the mix in recent days and both showed some quickness. Will Hastings has been on the field the last couple of days after missing the start of camp and Jeff Thomas made his debut on Thursday. The undrafted rookies both showed exceptional elusiveness during i-on-1 press/release drills and could be in line to add some depth to the position. Thomas also caught some punts early in practice.
*Anfernee Jennings made his first appearance of the summer, wearing a blue No. 74 jersey despite being listed as No. 52. Jennings lined up at linebacker during the early warm-up portion of practice but did not take regular reps from there. He joined Sony Michel (PUP, foot) running on the back hills during the second half of the workout.
*Robert Kraft was out on the fields as practice got underway. He spent some time chatting with various team personnel before heading in.
*Terrence Brooks got some reps at safety both in 7-on-7s and full team periods. He served as the fourth safety last season while also being stalwart on special teams. On Thursday he was more actively involved in the defense than we've seen thus far.
*Rookie Isaiah Zuber had a tough time holding onto the ball during practice. Troy Brown worked with a group of returner early on, tossing a pad at them as the ball landed in their hands. Zuber dropped one during the drill, then muffed another punt during the special teams work. He closed out his frustrating day by dropping a perfect pass from Hoyer, showing his frustration in the process. The undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State has been active throughout the practices but likely wishes he had a do over on Thursday.
*About midway through practice there was a very entertaining period in which four drills were taking place simultaneous at different spots. The offensive and defensive lineman worked on pass rushing/protection on one area while the wide receiver and defensive backs went at it. On the other field the tight ends and safeties went 1-on-1 while the running backs took on pass rushing linebackers in pass protection work. Damien Harris fared well in the latter, while Ryan Izzo and Paul Butler came up with impressive catches in their drill. Justin Herron did a terrific job stonewalling Chase Winovich on one rep. Mohamed Sanu turned in a pair of receptions while Byrd beat J.C. Jackson on a deep route despite plenty of contact from the corner. It was hard to track all the happenings at once, but it was great trying to keep up.
*Gunner Olszewski and Devin Ross continue to open eyes with their ability to get open. Olszewski has added some muscle to his 6-0 frame and it doesn't appear to have affected his quickness. Both need to be more consistent catching the ball but their route-running has been strong.
*I've mentioned the strong play of the secondary a lot this summer but one name I haven't cited is Myles Bryant. The undrafted cornerback out of Washington was active on Thursday, picking off passes and generally showcasing strong coverage in drills as well as full team play. The 5-9, 185-pounder has given up some plays as well, but he generally competes and on Thursday he won more than he lost.
*In addition to Hoyer, Jake Bailey, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Brandon Copeland, Izzo, Matthew Slater and Joe Thuney all met with the media via video conference after practice.
Check out photos of the Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020.