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FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 28, 2021: Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots walks onto the field during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

The final week of Patriots training camp kicked off with a surprise – quarterback Cam Newton was not present at practice on Monday. Shortly after practice began, the Patriots announced Newton will miss at least three days due to an issue with the NFL’s COVID testing protocols. That includes Wednesday’s practice, which is the first of two scheduled joint sessions with the New York Giants.

Monday was the first look at how Patriots practices will be run in Newton’s absence. Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer were the only two quarterbacks on the field, with Jones taking the majority of the snaps in a situationally-focused practice. He finished the day 17-for-31 in 11-on-11 drills.

However, Newton’s absence will extend beyond Monday, and the question now becomes how it will impact the team’s last week of training camp practices. After Jarrett Stidham was placed on PUP due to back surgery in the first week of camp, Bill Belichick went out and signed a fourth quarterback in Jake Dolegala in order to have four QBs to run camp the way he wants to.

“We just thought it would be a good to have another quarterback activated and participate in the camp,” Belichick said after Dolegala was signed.

Down to just two quarterbacks, will the Patriots make a move for the final week of camp? That would come as the second round of roster cuts loom – teams have to be down to 80 players (from 85) by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

Based on the wording in the protocols, it can now be inferred that Newton is not vaccinated. While if true that’s something the team has likely known about all along, it does impact the outlook of the final roster for outside observers. Keeping a third quarterback feels like as much of a guarantee as ever.

Here’s more takeaways from Day 16 of Patriots practice…

  • Situational football

    As actual, meaningful football games get closer and closer, the Patriots’ practices have more-and-more resembled just that – actual football. Such was the case on Monday, with a good portion of the day devoted to 11-on-11 situational drills.

    That session started out with Mac Jones leading the two-minute offense, and coming away with a field goal. The team also worked on general hurry-up – where they operate out of no-huddle but with the clock a non-factor. Such a situation could come into play any time the Patriots want to change the tempo of the game and/or catch the opposing defense off-balance.

  • Yodny Cajuste remains in the conversation

    For the first two years of his Patriots career, Yodny Cajuste has been just a name on the roster from a football perspective. A third-round pick in 2019, he’s spent both of his NFL seasons on injured reserve.

    Now, Cajuste is finally healthy. And after a slow start to camp, he’s picked things up in recent weeks. Following a notable performance in the team’s second preseason game last week, Cajuste has another strong showing in Monday’s padded practice.

    There are only seven Patriots offensive linemen who appear to be roster-worthy right now (the starting five, Ted Karras, and Justin Herron), but Belichick usually tries to keep eight or nine. Nobody had stepped up to this point, but Cajuste is separating himself at the right time. He’s a player to watch as camp winds down.

  • Positives for the cornerbacks

    Let’s start with J.C. Jackson, who started camp on a high note and hasn’t slipped since. He has a few pass breakups on Monday, including one against Nelson Agholor in the back corner of the end zone. His high level of play continuing into the season is crucial to maximize the defense’s potential, whether Stephon Gilmore returns or not.

    Speaking of Gilmore, there may have been a positive development in his situation Monday morning. Asked for an update before practice, Belichick told reporters, “I’d say it’s day to day…When he’s ready to be out there, then he’ll be out there. If he’s not ready to be out there, then he’ll work on the things that he can work on to try to get ready to be out there. We’ll just take it day to day.”

    That’s hardly a guarantee Gilmore will return for Week 1, but it’s a more complete and optimistic answer than any member of the Patriots has given this summer. Gilmore held out of minicamp back in the spring, and is also rehabbing from a torn quad he suffered late last season.

  • Bailey Boomin'

    Along with the situational focus came plenty of special teams work. That included a number of chances for punter Jake Bailey in 11-on-11’s. Despite the thick and humid air, Bailey had one of his best days of the summer. Here’s his hang times…

    4.60 seconds
    4.72
    5.13
    4.78
    5.19
    4.84
    4.19
    4.26

  • Injury update

    For the first time since early in camp, the Patriots had their full special teams unit together as kicker Nick Folk and long snapper Joe Cardona returned to practice. Folk was 3-for-5 on field goal attempts, most of which came at the end of practice.

    Outside of special teams, notable returns included Lawrence Guy, as well as tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who were present but not in uniform last week in Philadelphia. On Monday, Henry left after the opening period, but Smith was a full participant.

    Meanwhile, there were six non-PUP/NFI absences on Monday including Newton. The other five players not spotted included Brandon BoldenN’Keal HarryTre NixonMatt LaCosse, and Myles Bryant.

  • Play of the day

    Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne takes home the play of the day honors on Monday. Late in practice, Bourne ran a shallow slant out of the slot in 11-on-11’s. With a defender draped on his back, Jones put the ball just out ahead of him. Bourne leapt forward and stretched out one arm to create his own separation, coming down with the one-handed catch.

  • Notable quotables

    Devin McCourty on Cam Newton missing time: “I think for us, it’s just, it is what it is. It’s football. We’re used to guys being in and out with injuries and different things like that. So, I know it’s cliché, and we’ve said it around here for years, but it’s next man up. It’s everybody doing what they gotta do, handling what they have control over, and just going about it that way.”

    Isaiah Wynn’s best story about an O-Line dinner: “My rookie year, it was Marcus Cannon. And we went to, I can’t even think of the name, but it’s an Italian spot, downtown Boston, and they came out – we ate our food and they came out with the whole hog head. And Marcus Cannon, that’s his type of, you know, deal. So seeing him eat the whole head was kind of new to me.”

    J.J. Taylor on his proudest moment of progress this summer: “I think my proudest moment is still being on the team, still getting a chance to be able to work with the guys and just be in here, to be honest.”

    Kyle Dugger on getting to work against Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith: “It’s super helpful because just every day I get to work with tight ends who play at a high level. You know, every single day, I don’t get a break. So every day I’m always working and always getting better and growing, competing against guys like that who play at a really high level.”

    Yodny Cajuste on his performance over the last week: “I would say, just from Day 1 in camp, just going against our defense – getting those reps. I try not to focus on who we’re going against or what’s the task at hand. I try to take everything one day at a time. I feel like from the start of training camp, to where I’m at now, our coaches and our defense have done a great job preparing me to get ready. It was a good feeling getting able to battle with the Eagles last week, and just try to get better every single day.”

    Damien Harris on if he got stronger in the offseason:  “Yeah, I’m stronger…There’s no need [to brag], but I am. I think it’s helped just as much as everything else I’ve said. In the offseason, I wanted to get into the best shape that I could be in order to do my job to the best of my ability. That way, I can add, create value to this team, and do whatever I can to do my job to the best of my ability. This offseason, getting it better shape was one of the things I wanted to do — along with improving a bunch of other areas. I’ve just continued to do that up until this point. I just want to continue to do my part. That what, whatever I can do for the team, whatever the teams needs from me, I can do it to the best of my ability.”

  • Patriots training camp recap podcast

    For more from Day 16 of Patriots training camp, check out today’s recap podcast featuring Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald.