New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

  • Lining up across from Davante Adams (17) presents a big challenge, but with a benefit for Patriots defensive backs. (Photo by Bob Socci)

    Lining up across from Davante Adams (17) presents a big challenge, but with a benefit for Patriots defensive backs. (Photo by Bob Socci)

    Toward the end of Tuesday’s practice opposite the Raiders, Adrian Phillips came off the field to the middle of a sideline full of Patriots teammates and dropped to his hands and toes.

    Then he pushed himself up. Once, twice, a third time, then a fourth, continuing until his count reached 25.

    “I dropped a pick,” Phillips later explained through his chuckling. “Just got to go finish the plays, those are money balls and you can’t leave those out there, because you don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get.”

    Phillips’s woulda, coulda, shoulda interception occurred during a hurry-up period, his final defensive series of the first day of joint workouts at Raiders Headquarters in Henderson, Nev. What ensued was an act of contrition: calisthenics.

    His pushups also showed Phillips to be standup guy. Just four nights earlier during the Carolina game, he was the Pats’ vet ordering a rookie cornerback to hit the deck after mishandling a would-be interception.

    “You never leave money on the table. If you dropped a pick, your punishment (is) doing push-ups. You do the pushups to make up for it,” says Phillips. “So Jack Jones dropped a pick in the game, and I was like, ‘Hey, I know you’re locked in, but (do) your pushups.’

    “You can’t leave that out there. (Interceptions) are game-changing plays.”

    Dropping down for pushups after dropping a pick in practice is something Phillips has done since he entered the league as an undrafted San Diego Charger in 2014. As he’s gone from eight defensive snaps as a rookie to 882 last season, Phillips has gotten his hands on more opportunities to seize.

    Six of his 11 career thefts have come in his two previous seasons as a Patriot, totaling 30 games and 29 starts. Two of them were in the same contest last fall, in Week 8 versus his former team. One was a massive game-changer, a 26-yard ‘pick six’ off Justin Herbert to give New England a fourth-quarter lead for good.

    Though Phillips didn’t get an interception Tuesday, his pass breakup was part of a late lift for the Pats, who were challenged much of the morning on both offense and defense. While Mac Jones ended a very trying practice with a touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne, Phillips’s unit got a rare stop facing Coach Josh McDaniels’s loaded new offense in Las Vegas.

    “It’s definitely a positive when you finish the two-minute (period) the way (we) finished it,” Phillips says. “It’s winning time, whether it’s at the end of the half or end of the game. But at the same time, you pick out the focal points of each and every period of practice and say, ‘Hey, we got to be better right here.’”

    Going against the likes of Vegas receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, regardless of outcome in that particular period, should make the Patriots’ secondary better. Starting right now.

    “Those guys are matchup problems,” Phillips said. “When you go one on one against them, more times than not they’re going to win. I think it was a good test for us to see where we’re at and go up against a solid core group like that and see how they work, how they go about their plays.”

  • ‘Three Downs’ vs. ‘Third-Down’

    Bolden Johnson

    Brandon Bolden (34) and Jakob Johnson (45) are no longer in the Patriots backfield. (Photo by Bob Socci)

    With James White in retirement and Brandon Bolden in Silver and Black, the Patriots need to designate a new third-down back. Or do they?

    This past Sunday’s must-read “quick-hit thoughts” of ESPN reporter Mike Reiss included an observation that Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and Ty Montgomery were in the lineup on third down of the series each played vs. Carolina. The item called to mind a specific play during Friday’s telecast when Harris was singled out for his pass protection.

    If Harris can do that well enough and catch the ball as he has at times this training camp, will we see more of what we saw in the Panthers game? In other words, three for third? 

    Multiple factors go into being a reliable third-down running-and-receiving back. Good hands, good routes, good speed, to name a few. But the first requirement is being a good pass protector.

    So to end head coach Bill Belichick’s Tuesday press conference, he got a question about the difficulty of becoming an adequate pass blocker while playing running back in the pros.

    “Pass protection in the NFL is a hard job. Period,” Belichick said. “We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some of the best third-down backs that you can possibly have.”

    He named a few. Kevin Faulk. Shane Vereen. White, of course.

    “There were very, very few mistakes on anything,” Belichick said. “Assignments. Execution. Decisions. All of which they (had) a lot of. Those players primarily played on third down. When you play players on every down, then you’re looking at a different type of player, and a different set of responsibilities. Some of those are advantages for us. Some of them may not be advantages. 

    “(Current) guys have all improved. But it’s a lot. They’re looking at all three downs, not just really third down. And so we have to plan accordingly on that. At running back, there is always work to do. There’s always things to improve in — pass protection is high on the list. So is route-running. And of course reading the blocks and understanding the tempo, and the guys blocking in front of you — the double teams from these two guys are different from the double teams of (those) two guys, and things like that.”

    Belichick, as he often does, proceeded to a larger point related to the interconnectivity of all positions of a unit. 

    “(Backs) rely a lot on what happens in front of them,” he said, alluding to the offensive line. “Just like safeties do. Safeties rely a lot on what happens in the front-seven and where they go, where they fit, how quickly they do it, and so forth. It’s not just what they do. It’s how they integrate into what happens in front of them. 

    “That comes with a lot of experience and teamwork and reps. So I’d say that’s where we’re at at that position. Again, very similar to the safety position on defense.”

  • Afterthoughts

    Linebacker makes catch

    (Photo by Bob Socci)

    One of the defensive backs who struggled at the outset of one-on-ones is rookie corner Jack Jones. First, he gave up a completion, getting knocked off balance by receiver Justin Hall. Next, Isaiah Zuber slammed on the breaks, as Jones sped past, and made an easy catch all alone. But on his next rep, Jones stumbled, nearly falling, and recovered to knock away another pass to Hall. Tough sequence. Continued competing.

    The Patriots placed second-year outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins on injured reserve and rookie offensive lineman Andrew Steuber on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list. Perkins, who was not present for Monday’s Pats-only practice, was inactive most of his rookie season before going on I.R. last December.

    Lastly, a pool report. For the second straight day, linebacker Raekwon McMillan beat the heat by seeking relief and recovery in the Raiders’ pool. He was joined by a Las Vegas player. 

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter at @BobSocci.

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