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Unfiltered Notebook 8/28: 5 training camp takeaways, Michel's fast debut

The Patriots concluded the training camp portion of their summer with an in-stadium session.


Sony Michel returned to practice this week, coming off the PUP list and looking strong and fast in his practice debut. The team welcomes back all three of their top running backs from 2019 and they'll be counted on more than ever to help get the offense going.

"You want to work on every aspect of your game, whether it's speed, getting physically stronger, lighter on your feet," said Michel of his offseason training regime. "That's gonna be something I always work on, just make sure I'm prepared when I'm on out there on the field."

After a championship end to his rookie season, Michel scored seven touchdowns in his sophomore campaign, but saw his yards-per-carry drop from 4.5 to 3.7. Now, with a healthy fullback in Jakob Johnson, Michel will be looking to bounce back in his third year.

"The coaches are doing everything they can to get me on pace," said Michel. "We're trying to make sure I'm in the best shape possible, make sure my head's in the right place as far as the playbook and stuff. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can."

Michel looks like he'll be ready to go in two weeks when the Patriots are scheduled to open against the Dolphins. There will be plenty of work between now and then, but being back on the field and in the mix with the running backs is a great sign for the former first-round pick.

"I think the team has been working hard," said Michel. "Just seeing all the hard work they've been putting in on the field, guys are trying to get better every day, trying to find that one thing they can move forward from. If there are mistakes on the field, guys are trying to correct it. I'm just trying to build that foundation."

5 Camp Takeaways

With the end of today's in-stadium practice, our access to practices has concluded for the 2020 season. It quickly arrived and though it was a grind as usual, this year's altered sessions went by as fast as they ever have. What did we learn from the collection of practices that we got to watch? Here are my five big takeaways:

  1. Defense looks ready for a fast start again -- Despite some significant turnover on the defense and some injuries that have opened up opportunities, there's no question which was the best unit in training camp. It all starts in the secondary, where the team is deep and versatile. We saw numerous players lining up in various spots and it will give the coaching staff a lot of flexibility when formulating gameplans from week to week. The front seven didn't seem to drop off as much as it could've given their personnel losses, but without tackling it's truly hard to know how stout they'll be and how imposing their pass rush will be. Still, a number of players have made strides and figure to be much more involved in 2020 than they were last season, including Ja'Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich and Shilique Calhoun. Derek Rivers has consistently shown up and Deatrich Wise Jr. has also made plenty of noise. If those players stay on track, the defense will be in good shape. The true x-factors though are the rookies, as Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings have all flashed intriguing potential.
  2. Offense needs to make strides quickly -- There's no question the offense made strides over the time we got to watch them, but even in live situations the last couple days they continue to battle inconsistency. They've had their moments, no question, but it's a lot of good play/bad play for everyone. Has the run game bounced back from 2019? Hard to tell. Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead sprung a few runs, James White seems like he's developing a rapport with Cam Newton and Sony Michel looks fresh since returning off the PUP list. With the offensive line intact, the ground game, which could include designed quarterback runs, needs to be a strength, especially given the inconsistencies through the air. The offense will be a work in progress, but can they make enough strides in the next two weeks to give the Dolphins defense some major problems?
  3. Youth movement in effect -- Whether it's been the second-year jump by players like Olszewski, Byron Cowart and N'Keal Harry, or the impressive immersion of the rookies, it appears that the Patriots will be a lot younger and inexperienced in 2020. The hope is that the experience, which might've been unavailable to many of them in the past, will really start to pay off later in the season, and that the overall speed of the team will be better this year.
  4. Special teams impact -- Aside from what appears to be a wide open kicker battle, we can expect the Patriots special teams to once again be a strength. Last season they flipped quite a few games and given the circumstances might be leaned on even more heavily in 2020 to produce at least favorable field position and at best some hidden points like they got in 2019 with four blocked punts, two of which were recovered for touchdowns.
  5. Coaching experience - With so many strange variables this season, along with plenty of team turnover, the Patriots should have some advantage given their experienced coaching staff. The pace and thoroughness of the Patriots practices stood out once again this summer, and if there's any staff that can get their team ready to play some solid football with a truncated training camp and no preseason games, Bill Belichick and his staff are a good bet.

Webex Quotes of Note

Paul Quessenberry on trying to join the NFL after serving in the Marines:

"When I first decided to do it I told my family and a couple of my close friends and my girlfriend. Some people believed and supported me from the get go and other people looked at me like I was absolutely crazy. I just had this belief that if I wanted it and I gave it everything I had, some way or another something would happen. I just pressed on with that thought in my head every day as I approached my training. To get the opportunity with the New England Patriots as the gold standard of the National Football League, it's it's truly an honor and I'm very fortunate to be here. I just wanna keep working hard and doing everything I can to stay and be a part of this football team."

Kyle Dugger on how it feels to be in the NFL:

"It's indescribable. It's really a great feeling, a blessing just being out there, so joyous. I love just being able to be there and touch the field and play the game, it's really indescribable."

Anfernee Jennings on Friday's practice inside Gillette Stadium:

"Coach creates a lot of situations in practice that we can put in the game. We had a game-like scrimmage today, a lot of the situations we've already been through 1,000 times in practice that we've seen and talked about. It was an easy transition and kind of cool being in the stadium, getting a feel out there. It was great."

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