New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JUNE 16: New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots practice facility for mandatory minicamp on June 16, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Thanks to Bill Belichick’s morning Zoom call in Philadelphia, reporters knew to expect an emphasis on red-zone situations in Tuesday’s joint practice between the Patriots and Eagles.

Which is exactly what they and a modest gathering of fans and presumed ‘VIP’s’ got, as the teams devoted much of the first half of their workout to 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situations inside the 20-yard line, before staging goal-line snaps in the final period of play.

What they also witnessed was a much shorter session than the previous one on Monday. When Pats’ kicker Quinn Nordin followed up the final offensive series with the last of his four field-goal attempts at 11:20 a.m., both coaches summoned their teams around them.

Practice, in essence, was over. Players parted — some to hit the weights, others to catch extra balls fed from the JUGS machines — and everyone else pretty much went on their way out of the Nova Care Complex.

Sticking to the spirit of their day, here are some brief takeaways…

  • QB breakdown

    A high percentage of the passes thrown Tuesday were delivered in 7-on-7 matchups. Many of those were high-percentage check-downs. Patriots quarterbacks Cam Newton and Mac Jones each fared well. Most notable is that in 11-on-11 work, while Newton repped with ‘regulars’ on the offensive line, unlike Tuesday’s practice, Jones took a handful of snaps behind presumed starters as well.

  • A quick swap

    One interesting changeup occurred several plays into Jones’ first 11-on-11 series. Following completions to Nelson Agholor and James White, he handed off to Damien Harris. As the play concluded, Jones gave way to Newton, who ran a speed option right to Brandon Bolden. In for one play, Cam then exited and Mac returned.

  • Depth tested at tight end

    The Pats featured a two tight end offense on Tuesday – literally. Injuries to Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Matt LaCosse – as well as Troy Fumagalli’s absence – left Devin Asiasi and Jakob Johnson as the last two tight ends in uniform. Johnson lines up mainly as a fullback. New England’s first 11-on-11 formation featured offensive tackle Justin Herron aligning at tight end. The Patriots also employed the ‘Jumbo’ package later, giving Newton and Jones each a chance to huddle with three tackles.

  • Injury update

    Linebacker Ronnie Perkins seemingly injured his right leg while entangling with an Eagle on a kickoff-return rep, only to have teammate Bill Murray and another Philly player fall over the top of him. Perkins later exited practice but, on a positive note, returned before the workout concluded.

  • Parting observation

    Running backs coach Ivan Fears hinted in June that retirement may be around the corner amid his 45th year in coaching (31st in the NFL), as he readied for his 25th season with the Patriots.

    “Father Time is coming fast,” the 66-year-old Fears said. “He’s on my back pretty damn good as it goes. But we’ll let that play out itself as we go.”

    As Fears, who’s been a Pats coach longer than anyone on the staff – including Bill Belichick – recognizes the “the signs are coming quickly,” assistant Vinnie Sunseri’s involvement with the backfield was at the forefront of a drill early in practice.

    A former safety out of Alabama once employed as a player by the Saints and Patriots, Sunseri is in his second season on Belichick’s staff and his first helping Fears coach the running backs.

    On Tuesday, Sunseri took charge as their group of six backs quick-stepped their way in and out of a rope ladder. One after another, Patriots backs hurried toward the former safety Sunseri before sharply and suddenly cutting to counter his initial movements.

    Those few moments, as Sunseri essentially conducted the drill with Fears in the background, might just symbolize a transition that will eventually take place full-time when Ivan decides to call it a career, and as a six-time Super Bowl champ, a remarkable one at that.