Patriots training camp notebook: A strong start to joint practices on Day 13
Patriots training camp ramped up another level on Tuesday, with the start of joint practices. The Carolina Panthers were in town for the first of two joint sessions ahead of Friday night’s preseason game.
As Bill Belichick pointed out on both Monday and Tuesday, there are ways in which the joint practices give the team more than the preseason games themselves. These are some of the highest-quality reps players will get this summer. All of the talk from the last month about ‘we need to wait to see’ comes to a head here.
So, who made the most of the first of four joint practices (the Patriots will have two more next week in Las Vegas against the Raiders)? Let’s take a look…
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots senior football advisor Matt Patricia coaches quarterback Mac Jones (10) at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Before we get into individual players, a quick note on the overall units on each side of the ball, starting with the offense.
After a rough start to camp, it looked like the Patriots offense started turning the corner over the last week. With the majority of the starters sitting for the preseason opener on Thursday, this was the first real test for that progress against a new opponent.
As a whole, the offense looked to hold up. They were particularly strong in the passing game. Mac Jones had more time to throw than he had in past training camp practices, which allowed the offense to get in the rhythm. Jones finished 21/30 in competitive drills on the day.
The running game was still stagnant at times, working against a tough Panthers’ front. Seeing if and how they bounce back will be one of the top storylines tomorrow.
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
Asked how he felt the day went after practice, Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise told reporters “on our field [the field the defense was working on], we were dominating the whole time.” And he wasn’t wrong.
The Patriots defense won at all three levels. After breaking a big run on the first play of practice, Christian McCaffrey didn’t break loose again for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, the Panthers weren’t able to do much evaluating on their quarterback competition with Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold both constantly under duress.
With the Patriots’ offense failing to produce results throughout camp, the question was raised about whether it was due to offensive struggles or just high level of play by the defense. On Tuesday,
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) lines up behind center David Andrews (60) at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
One of the points of value in the joint practices Belichick highlighted is the ability to drill situational reps that the team may not be guaranteed to come up in a game. On Tuesday, that was two-minute drills, with both teams featuring starters or other projected rotational players.
The Panthers’ offense went first with Baker Mayfield under center. After converting a couple of third downs, Mayfield hit McCaffrey deep on a wheel route against Ja’Whaun Bentley. Now working on the goal line, the Patriots’ defense got three stops in a row with a sack from Wise, a goal-line breakup from Jalen Mills, and then another hurry-up of Mayfield forcing an errant throw as time ran out.
Jones started the Patriots’ first drive with 1:20 on the clock. He picked up a couple of first downs targeting Ty Montgomery heavily out of the backfield. Time started winding down though, and he was sacked on a third down ending the drive, as the offensive line faltered as the clock ticked down.
On Sam Darnold’s drive, he drove the ball to the 10 yard line with the clock at four seconds. That set up a ‘gotta have it’ rep. Jabrill Peppers got pressure on a safety blitz, forcing Darnold to throw wide of Rashard Higgins with Shaun Wade in coverage. The coverage appeared to be clean, but the nearby official (the teams brought in refs for the joint practice) flagged Wade for pass interference. That lit up the Patriots’ sideline, with Mills emphatically pleading Wade’s case. Instead, the Panthers got a snap from the goal line and ran the ball in for a score.
The final two minute drill was led by Brian Hoyer. Hoyer worked the ball within field goal range, clocking it as time was running out. Instead of kicking the field goal, the Patriots were given a 1st & goal from the 10 with 8 seconds left. The first play saw Hoyer overthrow Tyquan Thornton in the back of the end zone against tight coverage. He came back on the next snap though, hitting Devin Asiasi running along the end line for a touchdown on what was the final play of the day.
Tyquan Thornton keeps checking boxes
Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton during Patriots training camp on July 28, 2022. (Syndication: The Providence Journal)
Ok, now let’s get into some individual players. We’ll start with Tyquan Thornton.
This week is a big chance for Thornton to prove he can reach the next stage in his development. It will be his first chance to regularly face NFL-caliber cornerbacks, ones who aren’t familiar with his game.
Thornton started practice off with a bang. He won both one-on-one reps, with the second ending with a diving catch in the end zone.
In team drills, Thornton continued to pop. He repeatedly got open for Jones, including one rep where he beat 2020 first-round pick C.J. Henderson.
At pretty much every step along the way, Thornton’s stock has continued to rise. That trend continued on Tuesday.
Jalen Mills locks down Panthers’ receivers
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) walks to the practice field at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Overall, Mills may have been the best player on the field on Tuesday. He won all three of his one-on-ones to start practice, then didn’t allow a catch in team drills. He had three pass breakups working against the Panthers’ starting wideout duo of Robbie Anderson and DJ Moore.
Mills has been shoes to fill heading into this season following the departure of J.C. Jackson. The Patriots will need him to be the kind of blanket he was on Tuesday to hit their defensive ceiling.
Stopping the run
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon (9) waits for the start of a drill at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
As mentioned above, the Patriots spent the afternoon making plays against the run after getting beat on the first snap. And it was a full team effort containing Christian McCaffrey.
Christian Barmore, Matthew Judon, Davon Godchaux, and Anfernee Jennings were all credited with run stuffs. Judon in particular was extremely problematic for the Panthers during this practice. Jennings’ involvement against both the run and pass also stood out, as he continues to make a push for the role vacated by Kyle Van Noy’s departure.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson (17) does a drill at the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
There were a pair of fights during Tuesday’s practice, which occurred almost on back-to-back plays. Both took place when the Patriots’ offense was facing the Panthers’ defense.
During an 11-on-11 period, Kristian Wilkerson made a catch near the Panthers’ sideline and took a hit from a defender that knocked both players over. They both continues to go at it on the ground, which drew other players in and eventually brought both players together. In the end, Wilkerson, Kendrick Bourne, and Panthers’ defensive back Kenny Robinson were ejected from practice.
A few snaps later tempers boiled over again in almost the same spot along Carolina’s sideline. James Ferentz and Panthers’ defensive tackle Phil Hoskins got tied up on a block, and continued to go at it after the whistle wrestling each other to the ground. Both players had to be separated and were removed from practice. Following those two incidents, both teams huddled up separately and were addressed by their respective head coaches.
There were a few other dust ups during practice as well. Early on, Jennings got in a shoving match with former Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo. Later, after the fights, both sides continued to talk trash.
Not involved in either of the fights were Mac Jones or Panthers defensive end Brian Burns. Last year, the two were involved in a back-and-forth during the regular season game between the two teams, when Jones appeared to twist Burns’ ankle trying to recover a fumble. That relationship seems to have cooled, with Jones and Burns actually exchanging a friendly handshake shorty before the first fight happened.
Play of the day
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) walks onto the field during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Tuesday’s play of the day goes to DeVante Parker. While Parker made a couple of nice high-point catches, the one that really stood out came during team drills.
During a full field 11-on-11, Parker ran a deep go up the sideline. Jones threw a dart 40 yards down field, where Parker battled above double coverage to rise up and pluck the ball out of the air.
After practice, Parker was asked about his mentality when it comes to 50/50 balls. “If the ball is in the area, it’s mine,” he told reporters, suggesting that to him ’50/50′ throws are “more like 80/20.”
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 27: Isaiah Wynn #76 of the New England Patriots looks on after the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Isaiah Wynn missed his fourth practice in a row, with Yodny Cajuste once again getting the majority of his snaps. Prior to practice, Belichick described Wynn’s situation as “day-to-day.”
Justin Herron, Bill Murray, and Malcolm Butler all missed practice for the second day in a row. Cody Davis returned after missing Monday’s session.
Patriots Joint Practices with the Carolina Panthers. (Jim Louth/98.5 The Sports Hub)
The Patriots and Panthers will meet for the second of two joint practices on Wednesday. Gates open to fans at 8:00 a.m., with practice set to begin at 9:30. After that, we won’t see the teams again until Friday night’s preseason game.
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.