‘Four sets of fisticuffs’ Zolak’s Day 2 thoughts from joint practices
Zolak & Bertrand
Today, the final joint practice against the Carolina Panthers in Foxboro, featured four sets of fisticuffs. I would probably call two of them fights. The other two I would classify as skirmishes.
The Blow by Blow
You could say the Patriots were probably to blame for one of the fights, taking Christian McCaffrey out of bounds, which eventually led to Deatrich Wise going into the first row of fans. But I thought elevated intensity really good for both teams
Intensity Helps For Tough Early Games
I think when you have competitive practices, the way you saw it go the last two days, I think you get a lot of work accomplished. Plus, I think this type of environment gets you ready for a team like Baltimore. A team that you’re going to face in Week three, your home opener. That’s the team that likes to come here to push you around and they like to talk a lot of smack.
The offense struggled today as compared to Tuesday. I want to see them respond more and have a bigger night come Friday night when the real bullets start flying in the preseason home finale here at Gillette Stadium.
Patriots training camp notebook: Joint practices remain physical on Day 14
Wednesday was the Patriots’ final open training camp practice in Foxborough this year. The team will head to Las Vegas for joint practices next week, and then begin a regular season-type schedule the following week.
It was also the second of two joint practices with the Carolina Panthers. For the second day in a row, they were high-intensity periods that boiled over at times. Let’s start there…
Jul 28, 2022; Spartanburg, SC, USA; Carolina Panthers safety Kenny Robinson (27) covers cornerback Chris Westry (39) during the third day of training camp at Wofford College. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
The first day of joint practice featured a pair of full-team scrums. Things didn’t cool down at all overnight, with two more brawls breaking out on Wednesday.
Both incidents happened in quick succession early in practice. The first team drill of the day was kickoff/kick return, and right away players came out hitting. After a few big pops, things culminated in Panthers defensive back Kenny Robinson placing significant hit on Patriots wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson. Wilkerson and Robinson were both tosses from Tuesday’s practice for fighting each other.
While the hit was clean (Patriots players stressed this after practice), Patriots players took exception to Robinson and other Panthers players celebrating the play while Wilkerson remained down on the field. That led to Matthew Slater and special teams coordinator Cam Achord confronting the Panthers’ sideline, which led to both teams coming together.
With Wilkerson still down on one field, offense and defense 11-on-11’s began on the other. It took just one snap for another full-team conflict to break out. Deatrich Wise hit Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey as McCaffrey went out of bounds, leading to Panthers players pushing Wise into the stands. Wise was removed from practice.
Once again, the teams had to be separated and huddled to be addressed by their respective coaches. There were no major incidents for the rest of practice, although the tension was apparent especially as both sidelines stayed vocal later in team drills.
More of the same from the offense
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) works with the offensive line and a tackle sled at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Ok, now that that’s out of the way let’s get to the actual football. We’ll start with the offense.
In terms of overall execution, the offense was about level to what it was on Tuesday. There were flashes – Mac Jones threw two 25-yard touchdown passes, one to Jonnu Smith and one to Nelson Agholor, on the two snaps immediately following the second fight.
On the ground, it was inconsistent again. The offensive line did open up holes at times, but not at the consistent level needed to sustain a running game.
The communication up front still appears to be a work in progress. Jones was periodically pressured during team drills, and had a few moments where he spoke with wide receivers after incompletions to seemingly iron out route details. After practice, Jones praised the progress the offense has made in this regard, but acknowledged they still have work to do.
Defensive front keeps up the pressure
Anfernee Jennings speaks to the media following a Patriots training camp practice. (Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)
On Tuesday, the Patriots’ best unit was their defensive front. That continued on Wednesday. Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold were both regularly short on time in the pocket with the Patriots’ top defense credited with five hurries.
Anfernee Jennings continues to look like the leader for the role vacated by the departure of Kyle Van Noy. Jennings was heavily involved again on Wednesday, including picking u one of those pressures.
Secondary depth tested
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) walks to the practice field at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
While Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams weren’t exactly roster locks before being placed on IR on Tuesday, their absences placed the depth of the Patriots’ cornerback position back in the spotlight. That depth was tested on Wednesday.
When Mayfield and Darnold had time to throw, they found more success than they did on Tuesday. Their primary target was D.J. Moore, who had a bounce-back day after being blanketed for most of Tuesday’s session. That included coverage snaps against Jonathan Jones, Terrance Mitchell, and Shaun Wade.
However, Moore was quiet when covered by Jalen Mills. This was the second day in a row Mills locked down the Panthers’ number one target. Mills was arguably the best player on the field for the whole of the joint practices.
With J.C. Jackson’s departure, the Patriots are counting on Mills to take a big step heading into this second season with the team. Early signs point to Mills being ready to take that step.
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) walks onto the field during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Just like on Tuesday, Wednesday’s practice concluded with each team running a couple of live two-minute drill periods. Given the circumstances, these are some of the most valuable reps in all of training camp.
The Panthers’ first-team offense went first, but that drive ended quickly. Three plays in, Jalen Mills intercepted an errant Darnold pass to win it for the defense.
Given how short that drive was, the Panthers were given another shot. This time, they worked the ball down to the 15 yard line with time winding down. Darnold managed to get a snap off just as the clock hit 0:00 (the Patriots sideline protested, saying the play should not have counted) and rolled out to hit tight end Derek Wright for a touchdown. Wade was close in coverage, but never turned for the ball so he didn’t see it coming.
Jones and the Patriots’ offense went next. After a pair of first downs, their drive stalled out as Jones faced pressure and was forced to throw a couple of passes away.
They were then given two ‘gotta have it’ reps, one from the 10 and one from the 2 (a simulated two-point conversion). They scored on both, with Jones hitting DeVante Parker in the back of the end zone on the first play, and Ty Montgomery on the goal line for the second.
The Panthers’ offense got one more shot, this time with Mayfield under center. That ended with three consecutive incompletions. Carolina also got a ‘gotta have it’ snap from the 10, which saw Baker Mayfield throw a checkdown due to tight coverage down field.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Brenden Schooler #41 of the New England Patriots looks on during warm ups ahead of the the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
One of the leading candidates among this year’s UDFA class to make the Patriots’ roster is Brenden Schooler. Schooler has primarily worked as a special teams coverage player alongside Matthew Slater and Cody Davis, but has also seen time at safety.
While he’s been solid throughout camp, Schooler made his presence felt in a big way on Wednesday – twice. During the opening kickoff drill, he delivered a big his to Panthers’ returner Keith Kirkwood. He then popped up again late in practice, this time at safety, laying out wide receiver Derek Wright on a flag pattern near the Patriots’ sideline.
Schooler’s special teams ability makes him a legitimate roster candidate for the Patriots. If he can give them something at safety as well, it could put him over the top.
Punter hang times
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey (7) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
In addition to kickoff work, the two teams also did a full-team punt period on Wednesday. Here are the hang times from Jake Bailey and Panthers punter Johnny Hekker.
Play of the day
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) walks to the practice field at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday’s play of the day goes to Mac Jones and Nelson Agholor. Working in 11-on-11’s, Jones and Agholor worked a back corner fade concept against the Panthers’ starting defense. Jones placed the ball where it could either be caught by Agholor, or would fall incomplete. Agholor then went up over three Panthers’ defenders to make the catch.
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) lines up behind center David Andrews (60) at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
In addition to Wilkerson, David Andrews didn’t finish practice for the Patriots. There was no obvious injury moment for the Patriots’ center, but he sat on the sideline during the final period of practice.
Hunter Henry was the only new absence at practice. Henry left Tuesday’s practice early.
Isaiah Wynn wasn’t spotted for the fifth practice in a row. Yodny Cajuste got the nod at right tackle in his place once again.
Wynn wasn’t the only lineman to miss practice. Justin Herron, Yasir Durant, and Bill Murray also weren’t spotted.
Gillette Stadium following the Patriots in-stadium training camp practice. (Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)
The Patriots will be off on Thursday. They return to action on Friday when they host the Panthers for their Week 2 preseason game. Coverage of that game can be found on 98.5 The Sports Hub, with pregame beginning at 4 p.m. ET.
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 @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.