Patriots training camp notebook: News and notes from Day 1
The Patriots' practice fields behind Gillette Stadium before Day 1 of Patriots training camp.
Football is back, and it’s here to stay for a while. The Patriots returned to the field in Foxborough on Wednesday for the first day of 2022 training camp. “Day 1, the first of many” is how linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley described it to reporters after practice.
It is just the first day of many, so it’s far too early to make any conclusive judgements about the team. That being said, there were things that stood out on the field on Wednesday that are worth keeping an eye on moving forward. Here’s the highlights…
These early practices aren’t a head-first dive into football. It’s still a teaching period, as Bill Belichick said Wednesday morning.
“We’ve been practicing since the offseason program back in April and then that ramped up, so this is kind of a continuation really of the spring workouts,” Belichick told reporters before practice. “Training camp [starts] next Monday when pads come on. But for the next four days this is really like phase three.”
Specifically, the team did a lot of work in the red zone on Wednesday – similar to how they started camp last year. That was a good chance for both install and 7-on-7 and even 11-on-11 work.
New acquisition makes strong introduction
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) catches the ball at the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Nobody made more of the red zone chances then newly-acquired wide receiver DeVante Parker. The Patriots gave up a third-round pick to get Parker from the Dolphins this spring hoping to add a more physical element to their passing game.
If Wednesday was any indication, that’s exactly what the Patriots are going to get. 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Parker spent the day bullying Patriots cornerbacks. He grabbed contested catch after contested catch displaying an impressive combination of size, strength, and catch radius. If he continues to dominate in this way once the pads come on, it will be a serious boost for Mac Jones and the offense.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver Nelson Agholor during Patriots training camp at the Gillette Stadium practice field on July 27, 2022. (Syndication: Providence Journal)
It’s easy to forget Mac Jones has been the Patriots’ starting quarterback for less than a year. At this time on the calendar in 2021 he was still the presumed backup, working alongside Cam Newton.
On Wednesday, Jones took part in his first training camp practice as the team’s entrenched starter and looked every bit the part. He has a clear connection with the team’s top returning targets including Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, something he didn’t get a ton of time to work on last year when he was mainly receiving second-team reps.
Even between plays though, it’s apparent how much Jones has emerged as a leader and voice of this team. At one point during 7-on-7s earlier in practice, Nelson Agholor made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone on a pass from Brian Hoyer. Even though Jones was on the sideline during the play, he sprinted onto the field towards Agholor, shouting as the two did a shoulder bump. It sounds like a small even maybe mundane thing, but it’s a sign of how close the relationship is between Jones and some of his offensive teammates.
Checking in on coaching
Senior football advisor Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots stands on the field before their game against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The structure of the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff was a major talking point during the offseason, and will continue into camp. Wednesday may have offered some more clarity on a couple of things in that regard.
Matt Patricia seemed to be all over the field on Wednesday. In addition to spending time with the offensive line, he had a walkie-talkie and was in the huddle with the offense during team drills. We’ll see if that continues as the week goes on, but he was the play caller at least for Day 1 of camp.
Joe Judge also moved around a bit. The majority of his time was spent with the quarterbacks, but he also had sessions with the wide receivers and tight ends.
Perhaps the most interesting coaching development though involves offensive assistant Evan Rothstein. Rothstein is in his second year with the Patriots, coming over from the Lions with Patricia. In Detroit, Rothstein had an Ernie Adams-type role with a ‘research and analysis’ title. He’s a specialist when it comes to offensive game planning.
After being listed in a ‘research and analysis role’ in his first year in New England, Rothstein is listed as an ‘offensive assistant’ this year. In his first training camp practice, he spent almost the entire session with the quarterbacks.
Last year, the Patriots had two quarterbacks coaches with Josh McDaniels and Bo Hardegree. With McDaniels having other responsibilities, Hardegree was a coach that was always around. This past spring, Hardegree joined McDaniels in Las Vegas.
Could the Patriots be looking to replicate that setup with Judge and Rothstein? If so, Rothstein is the kind of coach who will be able to prepare quarterbacks well for what they’ll see pre-and-post-snap on gamedays.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 24: Joejuan Williams #33 of the New England Patriots celebrates after the game against the New York jets at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Non-padded practices are always tougher for the defense. Not only are they non-contact, but they’re usually instructional sessions played at a slower tempo where execution supersedes results.
So while they’re weren’t many defensive highlights on Day 1, we did see our first interception of training camp. That pick was grabbed by fourth-year cornerback Joejuan Williams, who climbed the ladder to pick off Brian Hoyer in red zone 7-on-7s.
This is a big camp for Williams, a 2019 second-round pick who enters a contract year after struggling to make an impact over his first three seasons. Given the Patriots’ lack of depth at the cornerback position he does have a chance to carve out a role on this team, and got started with a positive on Wednesday.
Bill Murray (62), a DT from William & Mary who has spent the last two years on the Patriots’ practice squad, is set to get some work with the offensive line as training camp opens.
Bill Murray signed with the Patriots as a UDFA defensive tackle out of William & Mary prior to the 2020 season. He’s spent the last two years with the team, exclusively with the practice squad.
As Murray enters a contract year, he’s making a change to try to help win a roster spot. Instead of his usual blue No. 97 jersey, he took the field on Wednesday wearing No. 62 in white. That signifies he’s flipping across the line of scrimmage, going from defensive lineman to offensive lineman.
At 6-foot-4, 295 pounds Murray certainly has the build to play up front, and coaches have raved about his football IQ in the past. He’s still a bit of a longshot for a roster spot, but his progress will be an interesting story to follow throughout camp especially once padded and joint practices begin.
Plays of the day
Jun 8, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) during the New England Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Parker had some nice catches, but it was Agholor and Bourne that really stole the show on Wednesday with some fantastic grabs.
Agholor’s is the play described above. He twisted around in mid-air to high-point a ball in the back corner of the end zone over Malcolm Butler, and landed with his feet in bounds.
Bourne’s catch was a different sort of play but just as impressive. In a 7-on-7 drill with the ball just outside the end zone, Bourne ran a shallow out route on the left of the formation. There was tight coverage from Terrance Mitchell, so Jones had to lead Bourne beyond the sideline. Bourne went into a full extension horizontally, grabbing the ball with his fingertips and holding on while keeping his toes in bounds.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots center David Andrews (60) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
There were no surprise absences for the Patriots to start training camp. The only players not spotted on the field were those on PUP (David Andrews, Jonathan Jones, Jabrill Peppers, and James White) and NFI (Jake Bailey, Myles Bryant, Chasen Hines, Quinn Nordin, and Andrew Stueber).
Every player finished practice. The only time the training staff was called on was early in practice, when Jonnu Smith got up slow after making a catch in the end zone. After briefly chatting with the trainers, Smith returned to play and didn’t appear to be limited for the rest of the session.
The Patriots are back on the practice fields tomorrow. It will be another 9:30 a.m. start. The session is free and open to the public, with gates opening at 8:30.
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 @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.