New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JUNE 16: Christian Barmore #51 and Deatrich Wise Jr. #91 of the New England Patriots compete in a drill during mandatory minicamp at the New England Patriots practice facility on June 16, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick let it be known right away what kind of practice it was going to be as the Patriots took the field for their second open OTA practice (sixth total) on Tuesday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

“We’re going to kind of tempo things down a little bit here today,” Belichick said to begin his pre-practice press conference on Tuesday morning. “We had a good day yesterday, a big day yesterday. So, get some teaching, get some situations handled that we feel like we need to get handled today and then push it back up on Thursday.”

  • OTA practices are already relatively ‘tempo-ed down’ given the fact they’re non-padded. The NFL and NFLPA also limit things like the amount of contact allowed in spring practices.

    That’s all an important qualifier when combing through what we saw during Tuesday’s practice. Still, there were some important takeaways, especially when it comes to player usage. Here’s what stood out…

  • Mapu’s role continues to expand

    Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu (Sacramento State Athletics)

    Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu (Sacramento State Athletics)

    Last week we got our first look at Patriots’ third-round pick Marte Mapu on the field. Mapu is a bit of a tweener, listed as a linebacker at 6-foot-3, 216 pounds. He projects as both a linebacker and safety in the Patriots’ defensive system, with his ultimate usage a mystery.

    After playing mostly linebacker last week, Mapu spent the early portion of practice consisting of positional drills with the safeties. He was also working with former Patriots safety Patrick Chung, who was in attendance for the session. As his responsibilities continue to grow, it’s looking more and more like the Patriots plan on maximizing his versatility.

  • Gonzalez makes his ‘debut’

    Christian Gonzalez

    The Oregon Ducks take on the Eastern Washington Eagles at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on September 10, 2022 (Eric Evans Photography)

    While Christian Gonzalez has been out on the practice field with the Patriots for a handful of the spring sessions, he didn’t take part in last week’s lone open practice. So, this was the first time Patriots media got to see him live.

    When watching Gonzalez on film, the first thing that stands out is how fluidly and effortlessly he’s able to move and change direction. That trait certainly translates in person. It’s tough to gauge actual coverage skills with the tempo the practice was run at, but when Gonzalez did get going he looked just as he did on tape.

  • Fight!

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 12: Guard Cole Strange #69 of the New England Patriots during the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 27-13.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 12: Guard Cole Strange #69 of the New England Patriots during the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 27-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Normally, the first ‘fight’ of the year doesn’t take place until well into training camp. For 2023, it came in the sixth OTA practice.

    During one of the higher-intensity drills of the day – an 11-on-11 running session – guard Cole Strange got tangled up with Anfernee Jennings after a play, with Deatrich Wise stepping in to break it up. As the players all tried to separate themselves, David Andrews and Christian Barmore got into a scrap of their own.

    None of the players involved took a snap the rest of the day (the skirmish occurred about halfway through practice). Unlike in the past though, instead of leaving the field all together the players involved remained on the sideline.

  • Opportunity knocks for a rookie

    UCLA Athletics - 2022 UCLA Bruins Football versus the University of Arizona Wildcats at The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. November 12th, 2022 Copyright: Don Liebig/ASUCLA

    UCLA Athletics – 2022 UCLA Bruins Football versus the University of Arizona Wildcats at The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. (November 12th, 2022 Copyright: Don Liebig/ASUCLA)

    With Strange ‘sitting out’ the second half of practice, rookie fifth-round pick Atonio Mafi got plenty of run at left guard. He also played some right guard earlier in the day.

    It’s nearly impossible to judge linemen’s blocking skills in a non-padded practice, but one thing that did stand out about Mafi is how well he moves for a player listed at 6-foot-3, 329 pounds. Footwork is footwork, and Mafi was executing well on some motion blocking designs. The Patriots project to be locked in at guard for 2023 between Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu, but it’s still notable moving forward – especially with Onwenu in a contract year.

  • QB update

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 14: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots speaks to teammates in a huddle before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 14: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots speaks to teammates in a huddle before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Mac Jones remained right on the level we saw him at during last week’s practice. He was fully in command of the offense and looked much more relaxed than he did last year.

    Even in the ‘tempo-ed down’ practice, Jones still took the vast majority of the reps with the projected offensive line starters (none of the top receivers took part in Tuesday’s practice). The starting quarterback job remains his job to lose.

  • Hang times

    Nov 27, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Denver Broncos punter Corliss Waitman (17) kicks the ball during pregame warmups against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 27, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Denver Broncos punter Corliss Waitman (17) kicks the ball during pregame warmups against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    Corliss Waitman was the only punter on the field on Tuesday, and the team only held one live punting session. He certainly impressed with the reps he had. Here’s his hang times…

    4.83 seconds
    4.33
    4.05
    3.99
    5.02
    5.15
    5.27
    5.06
    5.15
    5.05
    5.05
    4.81

  • Attendance

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 07: JuJu Smith-Schuster #9 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball at Allegiant Stadium on January 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JANUARY 07: JuJu Smith-Schuster #9 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball at Allegiant Stadium on January 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    A number of players returned to the practice field after not being spotted at last week’s OTA. That group includes Gonzalez, Barmore, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, cornerback Isaiah Bolden, and long snapper Joe Cardona.

    Prior to practice, Belichick was asked if Juju Smith-Schuster would be taking part in the session. Belichick replied “he’s here,” but Smith-Schuster was not on the field for the two-hour window. It’s possible he’s in the facility but didn’t take part in practice.

    In total, 10 players did not take part in Tuesday’s practice. They are…

    –WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
    –WR Tyquan Thornton
    –WR Kendrick Bourne
    –OLB Matthew Judon
    –T Trent Brown
    –T Conor McDermott
    –G Mike Onwenu
    –DT Lawrence Guy
    –K Nick Folk
    –P Bryce Baringer

    In addition to that group, running back James Robinson, WR DeVante Parker, tight end Scotty Washington, guard Chasen Hines, cornerback Marcus Jones, and safeties Cody Davis and Adrian Phillips were limited.

  • What’s next?

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 18: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches his players warm up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 30-24. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 18: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches his players warm up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 30-24. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    The Patriots are off on Wednesday, then return to the practice field on Thursday for the seventh of eight OTA practices. Their final OTA practice on Friday will be open to the media. Then, they begin Mandatory Minicamp next week.

  • 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 [email protected].

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