Thursday marked the final open practice of the summer for the New England Patriots, and for observational purposes the end of 2021 training camp. The team will practice again on Friday for the official final camp practice, but that session will be closed to fans and media.
This was certainly one of – if not the most fascinating training camp of the Bill Belichick era in New England. Even putting the quarterback battle aside (and we’ll get to that momentarily) there were fascinating storylines throughout the summer.
One saga that ended before it should have was that of wide receiver N’Keal Harry. After two relatively unproductive years, the 2019 first-round pick requested a trade leading up to camp. He then had some of his best performances in a Patriots uniform, seemingly playing his way off the trade block and onto the roster. However, a shoulder injury in the team’s second preseason game leaves his status in doubt.
There’s also the evolution of the running back position, one of the most talented from top to bottom on the Patriots’ roster. Six players in the group for most of camp felt crowded, but with the emergence of rookie Rhamondre Stevenson and second-year UDFA J.J. Taylor, the team was able to trade Sony Michel to trim the numbers. Both players likely earned bigger roles in 2021 with their respective performances over the last month.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team succeeded from start to finish. J.C. Jackson may have been the best overall player of camp, stepping up in the ongoing absence of Stephon Gilmore.
Depth-wise though, there are still questions to be answered at the cornerback position. One of the bigger positional battles entering camp was for the third outside cornerback spot, which becomes a starting role if Gilmore misses time. Joejuan Williams was the favorite to win that job heading into camp. He had a slow start, but appears to be picking up momentum as open practices come to a close. It’s still a spot where the Patriots’ could look to add externally as well.
Then of course, there was the kickers. Nick Folk missed a few weeks early in camp, opening the door for rookie UDFA Quinn Nordin. Nordin started to walk through that door with impressive performances in an in-stadium practice and first preseason game, but then that door was slammed shut on his foot with a rough performance in Philadelphia. With Folk back, he’s the presumed start, but Nordin remains an attractive practice squad candidate.
O.K., that’s enough reminiscing. Here’s the highlights (and lowlights) from Thursday’s practice…