New England Patriots

  • Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick checks his notes at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick checks his notes at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    There’s an air of unease among the onlookers in Foxboro. The Patriots have been slow to come together offensively in 2022 training camp, and still haven’t deployed their starters against another team’s defense. So Tuesday’s joint practice with the Carolina Panthers presents their biggest challenge of the summer so far, on both sides of the ball.

    Both teams are destined to mine a deeper well of plays than they’ll put on tape Thursday night, when they face each other in a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. So they’re likely to get more out of these practices than the game itself. It’s possible that Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick wanted to save his starters for this.

    Call it his version of the NBA’s “load management.”

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  • The Patriots’ early offensive struggles begged questions of why Belichick would sit most of his regulars entirely, which he did in last Thursday’s generic-as-it-gets preseason opener. But Belichick hinted before the game that he’d be conserving a good chunk of the roster for the joint practices when he praised the work of the strength and conditioning team in the ramp-up process.

    “I feel like our team’s as healthy as it’s ever been at this time of year,” Belichick said last Monday. “Part of that has to do with the offseason program, the way guys have worked, and maybe part of it has to do with the way we’ve practiced. But we really have very little in the way of players missing time – players on PUP, NFI, we’ve pretty much cleared that up today. Last year, we had six or seven guys in that category. Plus some other – a variety of things.

    “We try to do what we think is best every year. To try to compare one year to another year is – I don’t know how relevant that is. We look at things where they are and try to make the most of them.”

  • The Patriots didn’t escape last Thursday’s preseason win unscathed. Tackle Isaiah Wynn was absent, while Justin Herron was limited. Yodny Cajuste played right tackle in Wynn’s place. Additionally, cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams and special teamer Cody Davis were absent. The reasons for all the absences are unclear as of this writing, so it’s possible the missing players return as early as Tuesday for the first joint practice.

    But, more importantly, quarterback Mac Jones put no additional tread on his tires last Thursday night. Neither did Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Damien Harris, or Ty Montgomery. Oh and half the defense.

    Obviously, those guys have seen significantly more competitive reps in practice than the reserves. Belichick explained that the team has been maintaining as much of an even balance as they can when it comes to snaps, if only to preserve health and minimize wear and tear.

    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

    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

  • “Well, the players that played a lot in the game did less in some of the practices leading up to the game, and the players that played less in the game or didn’t play at all in the game, did a lot more,” Belichick said before practice Monday. “So, I think when you look cumulatively, over, call it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, which actually we have – the volumes are pretty close. So, some guys played a lot in the game, but really didn’t get a whole lot of practice reps. Now, they did in the stadium practice, where everybody got a lot of reps in, so those were split up pretty evenly.

    “But from that point on, I would say the overall number is sort of the same, but some of the numbers were a lot higher in the game, some of the other numbers were a lot higher in practice. Both in terms of number of plays and actual volume of what the player did, I think it balanced out. Not perfectly, but it balanced out.”

    Belichick arguably had a “Told you so” moment after the Jets dodged a major bullet, when quarterback Zach Wilson avoided a torn ACL in the team’s preseason game against the Eagles. Wilson did, however, suffer a torn meniscus and a bone bruise, and will have to miss 4-6 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery. Far from ideal.

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  • Of course, the Patriots aren’t out of the woods yet, especially considering that this is the first time Belichick will deploy his starters against another team. So they’ll need to get through two weeks of joint practices and preseason games with most of their starting roster intact. Only then will they be able to say this methodical approach to the players’ workloads paid off.

    If Belichick wants to keep balancing things out between practice and the game, then the reps on Tuesday and Wednesday should be an indication of how much the starters play Friday night at Gillette Stadium. According to Zack Cox of NESN.com on Twitter, Jones was 23-of-30 passing in 11-on-11 drills, while Bryan Hoyer was 9-of-19 and Bailey Zappe was 9-of-12. It’s likely we see plenty of the starters in practice reps against the Panthers, so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s reflected by a short night for them on Friday.

  • The Patriots and Panthers are set to run their joint practices on Tuesday and Wednesday morning in Foxboro. Gates open to the public at 8 a.m. ET both days, with practice expected to start around 9:30.

    We’ll be sure to keep you posted throughout the joint practices, including live updates on Twitter and post-practice coverage and analysis. Click here for complete Patriots training 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.