Players to watch when the Patriots begin padded practices on Monday
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Christian Barmore (90) after a drill at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots began training camp last week – sort of. As Bill Belichick reminded us on Day 1, the first few days of camp, which are non-padded practices, represent an extension of the spring teaching period. “Training camp [starts] next Monday when pads come on,” he added.
So, according to Belichick, training camp really begins on Monday. With the pads coming on, it will be easier to evaluate those players that play along the trenches that may have been held back through the first four days. Plus, it’s a chance to see how other players react as the level of physicality increases.
While all linemen (on both sides of the ball), linebackers, and running backs draw more focus during padded practices, there are other players who will be in the spotlight this week. Here’s who to keep an eye on…
OL Cole Strange
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Cole Strange (50) walks onto the field before training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
We’ll start with the player who most people will likely be locked in on this week. Strange – the Patriots’ top draft pick – has been seeing significant reps through four days, albeit all at a walkthrough pace.
Now, Strange will have a chance to show off the mean streak that has been a common talking point since his selection back in April. Between team drills and one-on-ones, this will be the first real look at him against NFL competition.
OL Isaiah Wynn
Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (76) walks off the field against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Sticking on the offensive line here. In the spring, the Patriots moved the tackles from last year’s alignment with Wynn moving from left tackle to right tackle, swapping with Trent Brown.
Wynn hasn’t played right tackle in the pros, so the next few weeks will be somewhat of a learning process for him. How well will he adjust, and how well will the line adjust around him?
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler (4) and wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) run a drill during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Parker spent the first week of camp showing exactly why the Patriots traded a third round pick for him this offseason. It seemed like every day, he was making another highlight catch on a 50/50 ball or contested catch throws.
The difficulty level of those sorts of plays is raised once defensive backs can be more physical with the receivers. If Parker can continue to be as dominant as he was this past week working against real contact, that would be a great sign for the Patriots’ offense.
WR Tyquan Thornton
Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton during Patriots training camp on July 28, 2022. (Syndication: The Providence Journal)
Through four practices, Thornton has done just about everything that could have been expected of him in his first NFL training camp. As the pads come on though, two things change.
First, he’ll deal with more physical coverage and be pressed off the line. His ability to win against physically tougher coverage was one of the biggest questions about his game heading into the draft.
At the same time, he should have more chances to flash his best skill – his speed. The Patriots’ team drills during the first week were almost exclusively red zone work. That limited space didn’t allow him to reach his top gear (although he did display some impressive short-area quickness). As the team steps back into more full-field work, he’ll have more chances to show what he brings as a deep threat.
DL Davon Godchaux
FOXBOROUGH, MA – JULY 29, 2021: Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots talks during a press conference during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 29, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
Godchaux has already been in the headlines once this training camp. Earlier this week, the Patriots signed him to a two-year, $20.8 million contract extension.
When Godchaux first signed with the team last year, the expectation is that he was being brought in to be a traditional, early-down run-stopping nose tackle. Fast forward to the new contract, which is a larger financial commitment than the kind the Patriots typically make towards situational players. It could be an indication a bigger role for Godchaux is in store.
What kind of role is that? Will he play more on the interior against the pass? Or will he line up more in three-technique and-five technique spots, where he played some of his best football last year (although with a limited sample size)? It will be interesting what kind of assignments he’s in when the 11-on-11 drills ramp up this week.
DL Christian Barmore
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Christian Barmore (90) works with a training aid at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, Christian Barmore was one of the best rookies in the NFL regardless of position. Now the question is how big of a Year 2 jump can he make?
When speaking to the media this week, Barmore said his goal in the offseason was to become a better version of the player he was last year. This upcoming week’s practices will be the first look at just how big of a stride he’s taken.
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. (30) walks to the practice field at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, and Cameron McGrone could all get their own spot on this list, but it would get rather repetitive. All three are competing for off-ball linebacker snaps next to Ja’Whaun Bentley this year. Early on, McMillan and Wilson have seen the most usage, but given the physical nature of the linebacker position, it’s tough to make any judgements until padded practices begin.
Coming into camp, this projected as one of the top position battles of the summer. It’s been on the back burner until now, but it should become one of the main storylines starting next week.
S Kyle Dugger
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) walks to the practice field at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Dugger made headlines for the wrong reasons on Day 3 of training camp, getting beat for three touchdowns during team drills. Despite a pick-six on Saturday, there was still some chatter about whether or not his performance is worth worrying about.
The thing about Dugger though is his physicality is one of his best traits – especially in coverage. In unpadded practices, he’s not able to use that to his advantage. Expect him to ‘bounce back’ this week with more hitting involved.
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.