New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Aug 1, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon (9) works with the defense during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

After a day off on Saturday, the New England Patriots returned to the practice fields on Sunday for their first of three practices ahead of Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Houston Texans. Over the two-hour, non-padded session the Patriots worked heavily in situational settings, mainly with red zone and two-minute reps.

Coming off a week that was all about the offense, the Patriots’ defense had arguably its best day of camp on Sunday. That seemed to be due to two main reasons.

The most visible was the return of linebacker Matthew Judon. Judon had been limited throughout this camp, but was a full participant in the first practice since he agreed with the team on a contract re-structure that included a $14 million raise.


READ MORE:
Patriots roster projection 1.0
— How ‘trust’ will make the Patriots’ offense better in 2023
Everything Jack Jones said in his first press conference since his June arrest


In his first full practice of the summer Judon was a menace. He picked up a sack on just the second team session snap of the day, and was a regular in the backfield over the full course of the practice. His energy lifting other players was apparent too – on multiple occasions defenders made plays then pointed or otherwise turned to Judon to begin their celebration.

The other thing that helped the defensive line was the lack of an offensive line. Mike Onwenu (PUP) and Cole Strange remain out, while David Andrews had what appeared to be a veteran’s day off. With those absences, plus Trent Brown being limited, the Patriots’ offensive line was without its clear four best players.

Still, it wasn’t just the Patriots’ defensive front that had a big day on Sunday. Let’s check in on a busy day for the secondary as we go through the big moments from Day 10 of Patriots training camp…


  • Rookies grab their first interceptions

    Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez (50) sprints during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez (50) sprints during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    The defense was busy jumping in passing lanes throughout practice. In total, there were four interceptions and six more pass breakups.

    Two of those interceptions were the first of the summer for a pair of rookies. Early on in 7s, Mac Jones tried hitting Kayshon Boutte on a fade up the sideline but Christian Gonzalez read and played the ball perfectly for his first INT in an NFL training camp. Gonzalez also had one of the PBUs later in practice working against Kendrick Bourne.

    Marte Mapu had the other rookie INT. He read Trace McSorley perfectly to step in front of a pass over the middle for his pick.

    The other two interceptions came on tip-drill plays. Joshuah Bledsoe had one off McSorley, but that wasn’t his highlight play of the day. His highlight came a few minutes earlier. He initially got beat by Tyquan Thornton on a deep post, but was able to recover while Thornton jumped to high-point the throw from Bailey Zappe. Bledsoe met Thornton on the way down and punched the ball out.

    The final interception was also thrown by Zappe, and picked off by Shaun Wade. As for the rest of the pass breakups, they came from Jabrill PeppersJack JonesMyles Bryant, and Rodney Randle.

  • Defensive lap

    Jul 26, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson Jr. (3) trains with a resistance rope during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson Jr. trains with a resistance rope during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    It wasn’t all perfect for the defense on Sunday. During a two-minute drill late in practice, there seemed to be some sort of miscommunication about personnel. Mack Wilson started running onto the field late from the sideline, but was turned away and went back towards the coaching staff looking confused.

    After that play, Bill Belichick halted the session to have the entire defensive unit run a lap. Belichick then briefly addressed the entire defense. Following practice, Davon Godchaux described the reason for the lap as an “operational” error.

  • Two-minute drill

    Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) makes a catch during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker makes a catch during training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    The Patriots closed out practice by running an 11-on-11 two-minute drill. It was as close to a live rep as there could be in a non-padded practice, with the field clocks running down and down and distance markers in use. Each quarterback got one shot for their final drive of practice.

    Mac Jones’ drive ended in a touchdown, but came down to the wire. With under 15 seconds left and about 40 yards from the end zone, Jones threw a deep rainbow to DeVante Parker. Parker was able to go up and get the ball at the high point, as it was thrown just out of reach of Jack Jones in coverage. Parker came down in the end zone for the score on what was probably the catch of the day (Mike Gesicki had an impressive one-handed grab in 7-on-7s, but it was too close to tell if he got his second foot down in bounds).

    Bailey Zappe was able to get closer to the end zone, but used up a lot of time. The clock ended up hitting zero as he was trying to get the offense lined up to spike the ball for a last-second throw to the end zone or field goal attempt. The coaching staff ended up letting him run the last play after the clock expired, which is when he was intercepted by Shaun Wade.

  • Wide receiver groupings

    Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas (60) does a running drill during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots wide receiver Demario Douglas runs a drill during 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    On a more player-by-player basis, the beginning of Sunday’s practice featured an interesting development at the wide receiver position. Early in practice the quarterbacks and pass catchers were working on route combinations against air, but were split into two groups – one with Mac Jones and the other with Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley. Here’s what those groupings looked like:

    With Jones:

    –WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
    –WR DeVante Parker
    –WR Kendrick Bourne
    –WR Demario Douglas
    –TE Hunter Henry
    –TE Mike Gesicki

    With Zappe/McSorley:

    –WR Tyquan Thornton
    –WR Kayshon Boutte
    –WR Tre Nixon
    –WR Malik Cunningham
    –TE Matt Sokol
    –TE Scotty Washington
    –TE Anthony Firksir
    –TE Johnny Lumpkin

    The news here is that Douglas, a rookie sixth-round pick who has shined since the start of camp, has seemingly moved into the top group of receivers. Meanwhile Thornton, who struggled early in camp then missed two of the three padded practices last week for unknown reasons, may be falling off in the team’s eyes.

    When things shifted to team drills, Douglas and Thornton both got reps with the top offense. Those reps seemed to be split about evenly. This could be a sign of a true position battle, with the two proving to see who is the better option as the fourth wide receiver and main speed threat in the group.

    It looks like the Patriots’ coaching staff trusts Douglas, as they continue to increase his workload as camp goes on. At the same time though don’t think they’ll be in a rush to give up on Thornton, who was the 50th overall pick two years ago and does bring game-changing speed to the position.

  • Tyquan Thornton’s day

    Tyquan Thornton at New England Patriots training camp.

    Tyquan Thornton at New England Patriots training camp. (Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)

    Besides the wide receiver groupings, how was Thornton’s day in his first full practice since Tuesday? Kind of up-and-down.

    Things started well for Thornton. In an early 7-on-7 drill he beat both starting safety Adrian Phillips and recent rookie training camp standout Isaiah Bolden to get open down the sideline. He had plenty of separation on the play, giving Bailey Zappe an easy window to throw into. Thornton completed the catch on a play that would have been a touchdown in a game.

    After that though, Thornton had some rough moments. In particular, there were two instances where the pure physicality of defensive backs prevented him from making a play. The first is the Joshuah Bledsoe PBU described above. The other came late in practice in 11-on-11s. It looked like Thornton was open in the end zone when Zappe threw him the ball, but cornerback Rodney Randle was able to close quickly. Randle made contact with his shoulder as the ball got to Thornton, who wasn’t able to complete the catch.

  • Attendance

    Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones at 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (98.5 The Sports Hub)

    Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones at 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (98.5 The Sports Hub)

    As mentioned above, some Patriots players got what seemed to be a ‘veterans day off.’ In addition to David Andrews, Jonathan Jones and Matthew Slater weren’t present for practice. They were also DNPs for Friday’s in-stadium session.

    In addition, Cole Strange and Ty Montgomery remained out with injuries. Onwenu, Anderson, and Cody Davis (PUP) are still out as well.

  • What’s next?

    Jul 27, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds a morning press conference before training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds a morning press conference before 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

    The Patriots will return to the practice fields on Monday at 1 p.m., with gates opening for fans at noon. It will be their second of three practices leading up to Thursday night’s preseason opener.

  • 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.

Sign me up for the 98.5 The Sports Hub email newsletter!

Get the latest Boston sports news and analysis, plus exclusive on-demand content and special giveaways from Boston's Home for Sports, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

*
*
By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.