The Patriots ended the final Training Camp practice of the summer on a high note by competing more evenly with the hosts at Raiders Headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, on Wednesday.
After Las Vegas had the upper hand in the first joint practice this week, Wednesday's session was more of a toss-up in heavy 11-on-11 work, which is the goal Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels had in mind when they made plans to practice together.
Although it wasn't perfect, quarterback Mac Jones and the Patriots offense recovered from a rocky first period of team drills to move the ball efficiently into the red zone. Jones was at his best in the red area, completing touchdown tosses to Jakobi Meyers (twice), Ty Montgomery, and tight end Hunter Henry to cap off the practice.
New England's offense needs to find more explosive plays and consistency between the 20s, and the blocking up front is still a work in progress. Without rookie speedster Tyquan Thornton, the big plays down the field weren't there, even when the pass protection found its groove.
The Pats offense's drives were more methodical, with Jones relying on the running backs out of the backfield, the tight ends, and Meyers working the underneath coverage.
Still, you'll take the dink-and-dunks over three-and-outs any day, and Henry set up the final score in a two-minute drill with a chunk gain up the seam.
Defensively, the best element to the entire Patriots operation over the two joint practices was the defensive front. New England's pass rush generated consistent pressure on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in both practices.
We'll have the particulars below, but Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, and Christian Barmore found their way into the Raiders backfield on a handful of plays, while the starting secondary was more competitive against Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow, and an impressive group of receivers. Most of Vegas's big passing plays came against New England's second-string cornerbacks.
Now that we've taken the birds-eye view of practice, let's narrow in on trenches for some takeaways from the final fully-open practice to the media this season:
1. EDGE Matthew Judon Best Pats Player on the Field Two Days in a Row
If there was one overwhelmingly positive takeaway from joint practices with the Raiders, it was the veteran Pro Bowler doing his thing. Judon registered a practice sack, a batted pass at the line of scrimmage, a run stop, and at least one other pressure in Wednesday's session. That, of course, followed up a two-play sequence at the end of Tuesday's practice where Judon took over, stalling a Raiders drive by sacking Carr again. Wearing a red hoodie in 90-plus-degree heat, Judon was a disruptive force for the Pats defense. After seeing him this week in practice, it would be alright with us if head coach Bill Belichick decides to rest Judon for the preseason finale on Friday night. See you in Miami.
2. Taking Notes on Patriots Offensive Line vs. Raiders Defensive Line in 1-on-1s
We logged 30 repetitions of one-on-one's between the Pats offensive line and Raiders pass-rushers on Wednesday, which were a mixed bag for New England. Here are a few highlights:
- Starting RT Isaiah Wynn went 1-1 against Raiders top pass-rusher Maxx Crosby. After losing the first, Wynn handled Crosby on the second rep, which was good to see.
- Left tackle Trent Brown had two battles with old friend Chandler Jones. Like Wynn versus Crosby, they split victories. Jones gave Brown some problems during team drills as well. The former Patriot looks like he still has gas in the tank.
- Mike Onwenu was strong in both of his reps working at right guard. Onwenu has a very sturdy base and a stout anchor. You better threaten his edges quickly because once Onwenu gets his hands on the rusher, the rep is over.
- Fighting for the top swing tackle spot, Yodny Cajuste and Justin Herron fared similarly. Cajuste held his own against some of Vegas's backups but was beaten on his last rep by Chandler Jones. Herron had a stalemate against Maxx Crosby, which is a win for him.
3. Patriots Backup O-Line Spots Make for an Interesting Roster Battle
It'll be interesting to see who the Patriots decide to keep on their initial 53-man roster out of their backup offensive linemen. If they are going to be more zone-heavy in the running game, Arlington Hambright and Will Sherman are fits for that scheme. Both have some tackle/guard versatility, and Hambright might be a better fit overall at tackle. Veteran James Ferentz should have a roster spot as the top interior backup, while undrafted rookie Kody Russey seems like the next Ferentz. Russey looked good on film against Carolina in last week's preseason contest but had issues with rookie nose tackle Neil Farrell Jr.'s power in one-on-ones this week.
4. Raiders EDGE Maxx Crosby Has Dominant Stretches in Team Drills
We already mentioned the Pro Bowlers name a few times, but Crosby was a constant problem rushing over the right tackle during team periods. With Isaiah Wynn banged up, Herron got the nod with the starting unit over Cajuste and had a tough time blocking Crosby. It's hard to tell in practice, but Crosby thought he had multiple sacks based on his reactions to certain plays. Crosby's a very long and explosive rusher. His arm length and hand technique make blocking him in the passing game a real challenge.
5. Patriots EDGE Josh Uche the Lone Winner in 1-on-1s vs. Raiders Offensive Line
Based on our view, the Raiders offensive line won most of the one-on-one reps with the Pats pass-rushers. However, one standout was Uche, who blew past potential starter Jermaine Eluemunor on one rep. Uche also won some reps in two-on-two line stunt drills and showed up in the backfield a few times during team periods. Uche's explosive first step off the edge consistently stands out every summer. Let's hope he can put it on tape this season.
6. Recapping Patriots Rookie LG Cole Strange's Practice
To be fair to the Pats first-round pick, Strange seems to turn things on in a game setting. His game tape is better than his practices. With that said, Strange's hand technique needs refinement, which makes drills like one-on-one's not his strength. Strange is also an aggressive run blocker, and his reach blocks on zone concepts produce some of the Pats best runs, but he'll sometimes get overextended. It's not overly concerning heading into the regular season. But we should expect some rookie moments.
7. Patriots NT Carl Davis Continues Stout Summer in Run Defense
After watching 17 training camp practices, certain players emerge as "my guy" for each reporter. For me, that's nose tackle Carl Davis. When Davis is in the game, he defeats single blocks with sound two-gapping technique and clogs the middle of the line better than anyone on the roster. Davon Godchaux is having a great summer, too, but Davis feels like a more natural zero technique (straight up over the center). Godchaux is better as a shaded nose in the A-Gaps or as a three or five-technique. Davis might be a practice squad evaluation-type, but it's easy to see a role for him on first down.