New England Patriots

New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 28, 2021: Mac Jones #50 of the New England Patriots throws a pass during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

With the regular season quickly approaching, the Patriots are focusing more and more on situational football. That trend continued on Tuesday, with the team’s 17th training camp practice featuring plenty of red zone and two-minute work.

The two-minute drills felt like they were won by the offense. Mac Jones was able to come away with a touchdown twice, and it’s evident his clock management skills are improving after what he showed at the end of the half against Philadelphia.

Late in practice, the defense got their revenge. Working on specifically red zone sets, they seemed to have the advantage. The team ran two series by the goal line, and both ended with a defensive stop and the offense doing push-ups.

This trend on situational football is expected to carry over into the joint practices with the Giants on Wednesday and Thursday. New York Giants coach Joe Judge told reporters the teams plan to ’emphasize’ critical situations over the two days.

When it comes to player evaluation in training camp, Bill Belichick has mentioned in the past that not all reps hold the same weight. High-intensity situational reps, as well as joint practices, are two setting both he and the team seem to value.

With a week to go until the final roster cut to 53 players, many on the roster are looking to make a last minute push towards a spot. With two days of situational-heavy joint practices ahead, there’s still time to shake things up.

Here’s more takeaways from Day 17 of Patriots practice…

  • Mac Jones bounces back

    With Cam Newton unexpectedly missing practice on Monday, many Patriots fans seemed to be looking for Jones to seize the opportunity and make a big push towards the starting job. In actuality, the rookie had a good-not-great performance. It wasn’t his best day of camp, but certainly not his worst.

    On Tuesday, Jones had a more dominant showing. He finished 30-of-37 throwing the ball during competitive reps, and at one point had a run where he competed 18 of 19 passes – mostly during two-minute work.

    One practice isn’t enough to shift the state of the starting job, even with Newton’s current COVID predicament. However, Jones is now carrying momentum into the joint practices with the Giants – at least one of which Newton will miss. With those high-impact reps all to himself, he can continue to chip away at the metaphorical lead Newton has over him for the starting role.

  • Defensive backs swarming

    It wasn’t all sunshine for Jones on Tuesday, and he tossed a pair of interceptions. The first was intended for Gunner Olszewski, although there seemed to be a misunderstanding about the depth of his route. Either way, the ball was thrown behind the receiver, tipped by J.C. Jackson, then picked off by Devin McCourty.

    Jones’ second interception involved Olszewski and Jackson as well. Working in the red zone late in practice, Olszewski attempted to run a slant from the outside, but Jackson was able to gain positioning after the throw, stepping in front to make the grab. It was a moment of revenge for Jackson, who was beat by Olszewski on a similar play on Monday.

    Jackson actually had two interceptions during practice, continuing what has been an outstanding summer. His second came against Brian Hoyer, as he tracked down an overthrow up the seam intended for Jakob Johnson.

  • Yodny Cajuste stacking days

    Tuesday was another positive day for tackle Yodny Cajuste, following his notable performances Thursday against the Eagles and then at practice on Monday. The 2019 third-round pick has come on strong late in camp, and is making a push for a reserve offensive line spot after spending his first two NFL seasons on IR.

    “Yodny’s working hard. He’s improving,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday morning. “Been able to string practices together – so that’s always a good way to improve is to continue to practice.”

  • Rhamondre Stevenson's new special teams role?

    For the third practice in a row, running back Rhamondre Stevenson saw work as a kick returner. Stevenson did not have any return experience in college.

    Still, he’s show examples of how explosive he can be with the ball in his hands. Given the veteran depth at the running back position, he’ll need to find other ways onto the field. Returning kickoffs could be one, as the Patriots still don’t have an established kick returner with one preseason game to go.

  • Plays of the day

    There were two outstanding plays by pass catchers early in practice that would qualify as plays of the day. Jonnu Smith had the first, working in the flat against Adrian Phillips. Jones threw a ball high in the flat, which Smith jumped for and caught over Phillips’ head through contact. Given that Phillips has seemingly had Smith’s number for most of the summer, the catch stood out.

    A few plays later, Jones lofted a throw to the back corner of the end zone, where Jakobi Meyers made a diving grab with his fingertips. The catch drew some gasps from the media area, and is a great example of how far Meyers – a former college quarterback – has come in just a short time with the Patriots.

  • Injury watch

    There was one injury scare late in Tuesday’s practice. Damien Harris and Ronnie Perkins seemed to trip over each other on a running play. Both walked off the field noticeably slowly, but under their own power. However, each player returned after taking a few reps off.

    Both Hunter Henry and Myles Bryant were in red non-contact jerseys on Tuesday, a first for both players. Henry was present at Monday’s practice but was a limited participant, while Bryant hadn’t practiced in over a week.

  • Roster cuts

    Tuesday is second of three NFL cutdown dates this summer. Teams have to trim their rosters from 85 players to 80 by 4:00 p.m.

    The Patriots got ahead of that deadline, releasing four players before the start of practice. Devin Ross, R.J. Prince, Malik Gant, and Brian Khoury were all cut Tuesday morning, as reported by Andrew Callahan of The Boston Herald.

  • Notable quotables

    Matthew Slater on Mac Jones: “Well, I think he’s a great young man. Character really counts when you talk about what we do off the football field, the way we carry ourselves. The way we approach our profession. The way we do things in the community. That translates to the football field. And I think Mac is a fine young man. His family should be proud of the way that they raised him, and the way he carries himself. The way that he commands respect of even guys like myself — older guys that have been here for a while. And he’s earned that respect by the way that he’s gone about his craft. So, he’s been a joy to work with. This rookie class has really been fantastic. They’ve all carried themselves with a great deal of humility, and just come out here and worked each and every day. As a veteran player on this team you kind of appreciate rookies like that.”

    Jonnu Smith on joint practices: “Absolutely, it’s going to be some great reps, man. Those guys are going to come up here and compete, and we need that for this team. We need that for this entire organization to take the next step. These joint practices, as you all know, they get extremely competitive. And, that’s what we need. Not as far as the nonsense that goes on, but just playing football. So, it’s going to be good for us.”

    Nick Folk on if there’s a kicker competition: “It’s always a competition. Even when you’re by yourself. You have to perform day in and day out so whether he’s here or not or I’m here or not, we’re both trying to improve our position. … I’ve been in a competition just about every year so”

  • Podcast recap

    For more on Day 17 of Patriots training camp, check out today’s recap podcast featuring Jim McBride of The Boston Globe.

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