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New England Patriots

New England Patriots

  • FOXBORO, Mass. — At some point, we may have to acknowledge that the Patriots’ secondary doesn’t suck.

    Despite significant turnover at cornerback and plenty of uncertainty at that position, the Patriots’ defensive backs have been more than just competitive against a deeper, improved stable of pass-catchers. They’ve now had the upper hand for three straight practices in full 11-on-11 drills, tightening the screws on quarterback Mac Jones and his receivers when time and space is minimized.

    Saturday’s practice in Foxboro followed a similar theme to what we saw Thursday and Friday: Jones and the offense looks sharp in 7-on-7 drills, then runs into a variety of problems in 11-on-11. However, even 7-on-7 was a bit of a grind in this one.

    Jones completed just 4-of-8 passes in the first competitive 7-on-7 period, starting right off with an incompletion intended for Kendrick Bourne that was broken up by cornerback Terrance Mitchell. His next two incompletions were off the mark, a slightly wide back shoulder attempt toward Nelson Agholor’s way and an overthrow of Jonnu Smith on a corner fade against Devin McCourty.

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  • The last incompletion was a bad drop by tight end Hunter Henry, who split the seam between safety Kyle Dugger and rookie cornerback Jack Jones, but simply couldn’t hold onto the ball as it clanged right off both hands.

    Jones and the offense momentarily bounced back in the next 7-on-7, which was in the red zone. He completed 4-of-5 passes with “touchdowns” for wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and tight end Jonnu Smith.

    The Bourne touchdown was particularly promising, as Jones shoulder-faked right before pivoting left and finding an open Bourne on a crosser in the end zone. Bourne was able to get strong separation from Jack Jones on the play. Mac continues to look confident and assured when given time to throw.

  • Unfortunately, it hasn’t looked so crisp when it jumps to 11-on-11. Jones went 6-of-12 with an interception overall in those periods. He was 4-of-7 in the first 11-on-11 reps, which started with the offense around midfield. He completed two passes on the run, one going left and one going right, both completed to wideout DeVante Parker.

    Both Jones and Bill Belichick noted the quarterback’s off-season improvements with his footwork and conditioning. It seems to be showing up in his throws on the run. He’ll never mistake anyone for Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, but Jones has been notably accurate throwing while on the move after escaping the pocket.

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  • But, just like Thursday’s ugly end to practice, the offense did not finish strong. Instead, the defense got the clear upper hand in the final red zone 11-on-11 session of the day.

    It started well enough, as Jones found receiver Jakobi Meyers through a tight window between Mitchell and Shaun Wade for a “touchdown.” Meyers continues to mostly be his reliable, sure-handed self when called upon. But Jones completed just one of his next four attempts in this period. His final completion of the day was a “TD” for Henry, who beat Dugger on a shallow crosser in the end zone. Dugger continues to struggle covering tight ends man-to-man.

  • However! Dugger redeemed himself on the very next snap. As Jones looked right and tried to fit the ball through traffic to Parker on what looked like a short hitch, Dugger crossed left and undercut the route to pick the ball off. The play earned the offense some long-deserved push-ups. Dugger certainly looks like more of a playmaker when roaming more freely in zone looks.

    Overall, Jones was 14-of-25 with an interception on the day. His top targets were Parker and Meyers, who had three catches each.

  • Leftover Notes…

    Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    — It’s tough to judge line play on either side of the ball without full pads, which finally go on next Monday. But during 11-on-11, defensive tackle Christian Barmore and linebacker Cameron McGrone each had a play where they breached the protection and could reasonably be credited with “sacks.” It was a relatively tough day for the offensive line, but again, let’s see how both lines look on Monday, when the real car crashes begin.

    — Pads or no pads, Trent Brown can’t be committing false starts. He committed one on what should have been the first snap of the final 11-on-11 period, which earned him a lap up and down the field for his troubles. Brown has mainly lined up at left tackle so far at camp.

    — Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe completed passes to Tre Nixon (2), Kristian Wilkerson, and J.J. Taylor in his reps against the defense. Wilkerson’s catch was arguably the best of the day, a deep ball snag that he reeled in while falling backward against Jack Jones. Overall, Zappe was 5-of-13 in team drills.

    — Pass breakups against Mac Jones were credited to Terrance Mitchell, Jalen Mills, Malcolm Butler, and rookie cornerback Marcus Jones. Jack Jones broke up a pass against fellow rookie Tyquan Thornton on a pass from Zappe, while Joejuan Williams got a hand on a Zappe throw intended for tight end Devin Asiasi.

  • Click here for more “Mac Watch” columns from the first week of Patriots training camp. And click here for complete camp coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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