By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
A day after the Patriots offense struggled, the group came back in a major way. New England’s seventh training camp practice was the most competitive and intense one yet, and the two best players on the field were rookie wide receivers.
First-round pick N’Keal Harry had easily his best practice of camp so far. He showed off his catch radius and usually-reliable hands with a handful of dynamic catches in team drills. Meanwhile, undrafted receiver Jakobi Meyers out of N.C. State was able to upstage him.
The day wasn’t perfect for the offense. Two laps had to be run due to mental errors. But it was still a nice bounce-back effort for a unit that got dominated by the Pats’ deep secondary on Wednesday. Their resurgence, particularly among the young wideouts, was an encouraging sign for their ability to shake off bad days and get better the next one.
For the team, it’s a healthy push-and-pull. The goal is to have all phases playing at a high level, and it only helps to have such competitiveness.
“You want back-and-forth,” said Patriots DE John Simon after practice. “You want that competition, that rivalry, and you want both sides doing good because if you go into a game with one side playing well and the other side not so well, then it’s a tough way to win games.”
Anyway, here’s what we saw out there as the Patriots held their second-to-last practice before heading to Detroit for the first week of the preseason.
— Absent: TE Lance Kendricks
— PUP/NFI List: OT Yodny Cajuste, S Nate Ebner, WR Julian Edelman, WR Demaryius Thomas, CB Ken Webster
— Limited: RB Rex Burkhead
— Red non-contact jersey: S Patrick Chung
— Dan Skipper once again started at left tackle in the first session of the day. Isaiah Wynn is out there, but not participating in even second-team drills. Cedrick Lang backed up Skipper.
— Tom Brady hit N’Keal Harry with a quick strike under interior pressure from DT Adam Butler.
— Undrafted rookie WR Jakobi Meyers stood out in competitive drills. He made a leaping catch over CB Jason McCourty on a deep ball from Brady, and later made the play of the day when he jumped and tipped the ball to himself for a touchdown.
— Harry followed up Meyers’ spectacular catch with a diving touchdown of his own.
— In a late 11-on-11 drill, Harry beat rookie CB Joejuan Williams and reeled in the ball as he toppled to the ground, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. Harry got up and threw his arms in the air in celebration and chest-bumped with WR Braxton Berrios. Very nice resurgent day for Harry, although Bill Belichick might not be thrilled with his post-catch theatrics. Prediction: Harry is going to see a lot of Stephon Gilmore on Friday and chow on some humble pie.
— DE John Simon and S Terrence Brooks got reps with the starting defense. Simon has a chance to be productive as a “sam” linebacker off the edge in 3-4 looks and an edge rusher in 4-3 and sub packages. Brooks is a little more surprising because he’s mostly played special teams in his career, but it’s still hard to tell what the plan is with the safeties while Patrick Chung is still limited.
— At one point the offense committed a false start and literally everyone on offense had to run a lap. Even Edelman joined his teammates on the jog. Shortly after that, Brady and RB Sony Michel bungled a handoff and the offense had to run yet another lap. Besides these glaring mistakes, the passing offense had a much better day in team drills than they did on Wednesday. I still count it as a bounceback practice.
— Williams covered Harry well on a deep post early in this period. He looks to be making progress after looking overmatched at times earlier in the offseason and at the start of camp.
— Undrafted rookie CB D’Angelo Ross continues to make plays. The 5-foot-9 Ross broke up a pass intended for the severely larger Maurice Harris (6-foot-3). If the Patriots’ cornerback group wasn’t so deep Ross would be making a good case for the 53-man roster.
— WR Dontrelle Inman made his first notable play since returning to camp. He juked CB Keion Crossen to get separation down the field and make a catch.
— Meyers had maybe the most competitive rep of the day against CB J.C. Jackson. The corner pressed him hard out of his break, but Meyers was able to fight his way free and hold on to the ball with a diving catch.
— Despite a big day for Meyers, CB Duke Dawson did get a hand in on a pass to him over the middle for a breakup. Dawson should be on everyone’s projected rosters, despite his slow build and the team’s depth at corner.
— Harry got deep separation against Jason McCourty in the corner of the end zone, but the throw was a little too far ahead of him.
— This was the Patriots’ fourth fully padded practice of camp. Intensity level was as high as it’s been since the start. It still could be ramped up, which should be expected at next week’s joint practices with the Lions.
— Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was booming his kicks so hard in one session that he got the ball all the way up to the top of the hill where the media tent sits. One ball hit a reporter, but harmlessly. On another, former Patriots special teams standout and now-columnist for The Athletic Matt Chatham got a hand on it to slow it down. He’s still got it.
— Isaiah Wynn got reps as the starting left tackle…against air. No defense. My sense is it’s just going to be an unusually slow build to get him in there. They still have time and there’s not necessarily a ton being missed by watching reps in team drills instead of taking them. We’ll know more about Wynn’s progress next week when the joint practices start.
— During one session, a special teams grouping had some familiar faces: Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, and Jonathan Jones. Crossen was a notable member of this group, because he may need to prove he can be a core special teamer to keep his roster spot. TE Matt LaCosse was also in this group, and he may be the No. 1 TE by default to start the season.
Last practice of the week comes on Friday, with times TBA. We’ll be there for full coverage.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.