New England Patriots

Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (14) reacts after his touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

  • The Patriots played their second of three preseason games Friday night, beating the Panthers 20-10 at Gillette Stadium. After sitting out the entire game last week, most of the team’s starters played about a quarter and a half in this one.

    This provided an opportunity for a closer look at where the depth chart may stand just a few weeks out from the season opener. When it comes to evaluating preseason games, players’ usage can say as much as their actual performances.

    So, what did we learn Friday night? Here’s what stood out…

  • Ty Montgomery is a well-rounded back

    Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (14) warms up before a preseason game against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (14) warms up before a preseason game against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Ty Montgomery began his NFL career as a wide receiver, but started mixing in running back snaps as early as 2016. He’s done a bit of both ever since, and doesn’t exactly lock into either position by definition.

    With that background, the expectation is the 29-year-old is a pass-catching threat out of the backfield in running back alignments. In his first game action since signing with the Patriots in the spring he showed that skill set, catching a pass in the flat on 3rd & 4 and turning it into a first down to extend what ended up being the Patriots’ first touchdown drive.

    What was notable though was his skills as a pure runner. Later on that drive, the Patriots turned to Montgomery on the goal line. He ended up scoring on the second of two hard-fought runs, the kind not usually linked to smaller receiving backs.

    “It’s my first touchdown – I don’t care if it’s preseason – since 2018. I’m just happy to be getting opportunities,” Montgomery said after the game.

    As for his usage – Montgomery was the back on the field when the Patriots ran two-minute drills against the Panthers during the week in joint practices. However, he split the snaps drive-by-drive with Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris on Friday. So that competition may still be open heading into the final week of training camp and the preseason. Although Montgomery’s role remains cloudy, it’s clear at this point that he will at least have one.

  • Lil’Jordan Humphrey is an NFL player

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey (83) runs the ball as Carolina Panthers cornerback Madre Harper (36) closes in during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (83) runs the ball as Carolina Panthers cornerback Madre Harper (36) closes in during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    At this time last week, it felt like Lil’Jordan HumphreyTre Nixon, and Kristian Wilkerson were all in lock step for the potential final wide receiver spot on the Patriots’ roster. After this week, Humphrey seems to have pulled ahead.

    After a strong week of practice, Humphrey was the Patriots’ leading receiver Friday night. He caught five passes for 71 yards, including a 26-yarder. This comes after catching six passes for 62 yards and a score last week. Humphrey also made an impressive play downing a punt late in the game.

    Overall, Humphrey stood well above most of not all of the other players he was on the field with Friday night. That’s not to say he’s a superstar in the waiting, but he’s clearly a level above the borderline roster players making up the majority of those on the field in the second half of a preseason game. He’s an NFL player who belongs on an NFL regular season roster.

    The question is, will that roster be the Patriots’ roster. Right now, the Patriots’ receiver depth is as strong as it has been in five years. Even coming into camp, the question of whether or not they’d carry a sixth receiver (after Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, and Tyquan Thornton) was a tough one. Humphrey has done his part to prove he belongs, but it could still come down to a numbers game with other positions.

    When asked about Humphrey after the game, Bill Belichick couldn’t help but smile as he gave his answer. “He’s made some plays for us since he’s been here. He’s a big kid that is tough and has very good hands and is kind of a big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy, has a good feel, very good instincts in the passing game, handles himself well in the middle of the field with linebackers under him, over him, in between him,” Belichick noted. “He gets some tough yards after the catch. Did a decent job blocking on some of the perimeter plays. Then he showed up in the kicking game. That was a player that we got late, wasn’t with us in the spring, signed him in July, or late June, whatever it was. He’s coming off an injury last year, but he’s come in, really worked hard and made a very positive impression here. We’re glad we have him.”

    “L.J. is a beast,” Mac Jones added. “He’s a grinder. He’s a big dude. He’s great on special teams, too. We have great receivers, and it’s great to see them all get a chance to catch the ball and run. He’s a big body type receiver, and that’s a good addition for us.”

    If Humphrey continues to improve, he may force the Patriots to open up a spot for him. Belichick’s “tight end-ish” line is interesting, given right now there’s no obvious third tight end behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. That could be Humphrey’s way onto the roster. If the team does cut him though, it seems unlikely at this point the team would be able to get him through waivers and back onto the practice squad. He’s done too much at this point for other teams not to take notice.

  • Offensive line depth continues to be tested

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) at the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) at the line of scrimmage against the Carolina Panthers in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots were thin up front in Friday’s game. Both starting tackles, Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn, were among the few starters who didn’t see the field. Wynn hasn’t practiced in over a week, while it appears Brown was given a veteran day off. Justin Herron, who is in the running to be the backup ‘swing’ tackle, also missed the game after missing the last few practices.

    With those players out, the Patriots started Yodny Cajuste at left tackle and Michael Onwenu at right tackle. James Ferentz started in Onwenu’s usual spot at right guard. Center David Andrews and left guard Cole Strange were the only two linemen playing in their usual positions.

    Wynn being out meant Cajuste had another chance to close the gap between the two. So far in camp Cajuste has come out strong, and with Wynn missing time could potentially push him for that starting job. On Friday, Cajuste was flagged once for a false start and appeared to get beat on an early sack, but besides that held up well.

    Onwenu playing right tackle is also notable. The 2020 sixth-round pick played right tackle, and played it well, as a rookie but then moved back to a guard spot last year. Early in camp it seemed as though the team may have locked him in as a guard for the future, but putting him out there may be an indication that door isn’t completely closed.

    One other note on the reserves. Late in the game, Arlington Hambright saw some time at tackle. Hambright is primarily a guard, and earlier in camp looked to be pushing Ferentz for the top backup role there. While he played less with the first unit this week, he’s started seeing some time at tackle in addition to guard. That positional versatility could give him an edge when it comes to the last one or two offensive line spots on the roster.

  • Matthew Judon, still good

    If there were any concerns about Matthew Judon’s late slump last year carrying over to this season, he did plenty to dissuade that idea on Friday night. Judon wasn’t credited with a sack, but he was at or near the quarterback when the Patriots’ defensive front was getting pressure early in the game. He was a clear factor in the way the Panthers’ were setting their protections. In the stat column, he was credited with a pass breakup, knocking down a throw at the line of scrimmage.

    This performance comes after Judon was a menace during joint practices this week. While the subject of his late-season drought will certainly linger throughout the current season, he looks to be back in the groove he was in early in 2021.

  • Jahlani Tavai is in line to be a four-down contributor

    When training camp started, Bill Belichick did an interview with SiriusXM’s NFL channel, and seemed to make a point of crediting linebacker Jahlani Tavai. “I think he’ll be a big factor for us this year, on all four downs; not just defensively but also in the kicking game,” Belichick said at the time.

    Based on Friday night’s game, that appears to be the plan. Tavai was getting reps with the starting defense, playing next to Ja’Whaun Bentley when he was in the game. He split reps with Raekwon McMillan, and appeared in multiple series before Mack Wilson took the field.

  • More of Jonathan Jones on the boundary

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (31) defends against Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (19) in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones (31) defends against Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keith Kirkwood (19) in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The concept of Jonathan Jones playing on the boundary appears to be beyond the experiment stage. After getting snaps on the boundary all week in practice, he continued playing out there when he was on the field Friday night.

    Jones was targeted a couple of times downfield, and held up well in coverage. The Panthers weren’t playing their starting receivers, so this isn’t to say Jones is all set on the boundary, but he does appear comfortable in his position. That’s a key step for a guy who spent the heavy majority of his career to this point playing in the slot.

  • A quick note on the Panthers

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule on the field before the start of the game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule on the field before the start of the game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Normally in preseason games (and joint practices), the opponent is mostly inconsequential. Even though there’s another team on the field, the focus is mainly on the Patriots’ roster situation. That wasn’t the case this week though with the Panthers in town.

    There were no shortage of storylines involving the Panthers this week. That included the QB battle that may or may not be real (Baker Mayfield clearly looks like the starter, even with Darnold still seeing significant reps) and multiple fights in practice, and carried over to the game with a fully-padded 30 minute walkthrough on the field with the starters before the game, to more bizarre QB management (alternating quarters between PJ Walker and rookie Matt Corral, despite head coach Matt Rhule hinting during the week that Corral needed more playing time), to the entire bench emptying to celebrate a pick and taunt fans in the third quarter (of a preseason game) leading to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

    Aside from the fights, these are all just decisions for the time being. Only time will tell if the Panthers are onto something, or if it ends up being relabeled as mismanagement. One thing is for sure though, and it’s that this team is taking a different kind of approach. That approach will make them interesting to follow, for better or worse, throughout the season.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.