New England Patriots

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 07: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots under center during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

  • On Tuesday, the Patriots begin joint practices with the Carolina Panthers. They’ll have two joint sessions with the Panthers this week, then two with the Las Vegas Raiders next week. All of these joint practices make this two-week stretch the most crucial during training camp this summer.

    Monday morning, Bill Belichick addressed the importance of joint practices. “There’s so many things,” he said, when asked what the team gets out of them. “The individual matchups are good. We’ve been working against each other for a long time, so new individual matchups, schemes are different. We’ll see some different X’s and O’s, but also maybe techniques on the way guys pass-rush or route-running or things like that.”

    “I would say, less predictability of practice,” he added. “We kind of know what’s on the other side of the ball and what we can and can’t do. Some things we aren’t going to see from the opposite side of the ball. With a new team, everything’s kind of new, so it keeps you on your toes and forces more communication and more awareness, and we need that.”

    When asked if the team can get more out of the joint practices than the games themselves, Belichick replied, ” Yeah, in some respects, you do…The great thing about practice is our players get more opportunities at those situations, especially guys that probably have a higher chance of being in there during the regular season.”

    “So, a lot of reps out here for our players,” he added. “Obviously more reps in practice – when you add all the practices up – than there are in the games. Just more practice opportunities, more chances to get better, more ways to improve, and more things you can find that you need to work on. I mean, in the end, the games have a lot of value too because it’s a game, and it’s structured differently, but there’s certainly a lot to be gained in practice. So, they’re both really important.”

    So, what will the areas of focus be when the Patriots and Panthers meet on the practice field this week? Here are some things to watch.

  • Offensive progression

    Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) calls a play during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) calls a play during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    This has been the big picture storyline/question of Patriots training camp, so of course it will stay in the spotlight this week. The offense seemingly took some steps last week after a rough start to camp, and now the goal is for that to continue in competitive practice reps against a new opponent.

    How the blocking holds up will be a key focus here. That doesn’t just mean the offensive linemen in one-on-one matchups, but the pre-snap operation and communication that involves the entire offense. When the offense was really having issues two weeks ago, Mac Jones mentioned the offense needing to “get on the same page.” They seem to have done that since, but these two practices will be the biggest test of that so far, especially after the majority of the starters didn’t play in last week’s preseason opener.

    The blocking scheme will be tested by Carolina’s strong defensive front. Their starting defensive line features 2020 seventh-overall selection Derrick Brown and veteran Matt Ioannidis on the inside, and 2021 Pro Bowler Brian Burns and 2020 38th overall pick Yetur Gross-Matos on the edge. In particular, Brown and Patriots 2021 first-round pick Cole Strange will be an intriguing head-to-head matchup.

  • An eye on the play-callers

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 11: Senior Football Advisor Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots looks on during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Senior Football Advisor Matt Patricia of the New England Patriots looks on during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Another big talking point during training camp – and really since the offseason began – has been who will be calling the offensive plays. We got a glimpse into that Thursday night against the Giants, when Matt Patricia appeared to be handling the responsibilities for the beginning of the game, with Joe Judge taking over once Bailey Zappe came in at quarterback.

    Did this mean Patricia is the ‘starting’ play-caller while Judge in the ‘back-up’ or is it still an ‘open competition’? Belichick and others on the coaching staff have been mum on the subject so far.

    Tuesday and Wednesday should offer more clarity. Generally during joint practices, teams do more to simulate real game situations with game-like conditions. That includes a running clock, down markers, moving the ball, and sometimes even officials. In that sense, the sessions can look like game rehearsals.

    If that’s the case, it would make sense that the Patriots would be in a game-like mode when it comes to play-calling. It should be interesting to see who is relaying the signals into the huddle when the first team offense is on the field.


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  • Tyquan Thornton

    May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (51) works with training aids at the team's OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (51) works with training aids at the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    So far, Tyquan Thornton has checked every box in terms of his rookie development this camp. He has a chance to check another big one this week.

    Coming into camp, one of the biggest questions about Thornton was his play strength and how he’d fare competing against bigger, stronger cornerbacks both in press situations at the line of scrimmage and down the field fighting for the football. So far, none of that has really been an issue for the second-round pick, but he’ll get another test against the Panthers’ secondary.

    Carolina has six cornerbacks that stand 6-feet or taller, with a number of intriguing potential matchups. There are two recent top-10 picks on the depth chart, with 2020 ninth-overall selection C.J. Henderson (6-foot-1, 204 pounds) and 2021 eighth-overall pick Jaycee Horn.

    Thornton will also see a familiar face line up opposite him this week in rookie seventh-round pick Kalon Barnes (6-foot, 185 pounds). Thornton and Barnes were teammates at Baylor, so they likely are familiar with each other’s games. That could make for some fun one-on-ones.

    Finally, there’s second-year corner Keith Taylor. At 6-foot-3, he’s one of the bigger cornerbacks in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how Thornton uses his speed and shiftiness to counter Taylor’s reach.

  • A good test for the linebackers

    Jun 8, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey makes a catch during Carolina Panthers minicamp at Bank of America Stadium Practice Facility. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 8, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey makes a catch during Carolina Panthers minicamp at Bank of America Stadium Practice Facility. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the focuses for the Patriots’ defense this offseason was to be able to feature more faster and more athletic players at the linebacker position. They appear to have done with with players like Mack WilsonRaekwon McMillan, and Anfernee Jennings. Carolina’s roster is built to put those players to the test.

    In particular, Carolina’s backfield will be a focus. Most football fans are aware of the dynamic two-time All-Pro Christian McCaffrey brings to the Panthers’ offense as a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield. In addition to McCaffrey though, the Panthers have 2021 fourth-round pick Chuba Hubbard, another well-rounded back who can be a matchup nightmare for defenses.

    McCaffrey and Hubbard are the kinds of players the Patriots had trouble defending last year, and seemed to focus on building their defense around slowing down this offseason. This week will be a good test not just for the linebackers, but the starting defense as a whole.

  • Panthers quarterback competition

    SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA - AUGUST 02: Sam Darnold #14 and Baker Mayfield #6 of the Carolina Panthers walk the field during training camp at Wofford College on August 02, 2022 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

    SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA – AUGUST 02: Sam Darnold #14 and Baker Mayfield #6 of the Carolina Panthers walk the field during training camp at Wofford College on August 02, 2022 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

    Remember this time last year, when nobody truly knew who the Patriots’ quarterback was going to be? It was right around joint practices that Jones started to pass Cam Newton.

    This year, the Panthers are the ones with a major QB battle. While it doesn’t impact the Patriots directly, it is one of the bigger national storylines during this year’s preseason. Plus, could the Patriots potentially at least partially impact the outcome?

    Sam Darnold returns after the Panthers gave up second and fourth round picks to get him last spring. Darnold didn’t exactly inspire confidence in his first year in Carolina, throwing nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 12 games.

    In order to hedge their bets, the Panthers traded a fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Baker Mayfield. Mayfield threw 17 touchdowns and 13 picks in 14 games last season, playing through injury for most of the year.

    With both quarterbacks in contract years, there’s a lot at stake here. The Patriots’ defense will get the best shot from each – although they’ve historically been very successful against both players. Will either gain ground during their time in Foxborough? Or will the Patriots’ defense continue to look like a dominant unit?

    The Panthers also have two other quarterbacks on their roster in P.J. Walker and rookie Matt Corral. Walker likely would have been the XFL MVP in 2020 had the league not been shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Meanwhile, Corral was selected 94th overall in this year’s NFL draft. The Panthers got that pick from the Patriots in exchange for a fourth round pick – used on another QB in Zappe – and a 2023 third-round pick.

  • Any bad blood?

    Nov 7, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) grabs Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (53) after fumbling the ball in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 7, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) grabs Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (53) after fumbling the ball in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    If you remember, the regular season matchup between the Patriots and Panthers last year got a little heated.

    Most of the controversy surrounded Jones and Burns. After a strip sack in the first quarter, Jones grabbed Burns’ ankle and appeared to twist it as he tried to get away. Jones later said he believed Burns has recovered the ball and was trying to tackle him, which didn’t stop Burns from saying saying he’d like to play the Patriots again and “wishing all my fellow D-end brothers happy hunting.”

    Tuesday will be the first time both are on the same football field in a competitive environment (both played in the Pro Bowl last year) since those incidents. Will tempers flare back up?

  • Former Patriots

    Aug 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Duke Dawson (29) reacts after dropping a pass during the second half against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Duke Dawson (29) reacts after dropping a pass during the second half against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    There are three former Patriots currently on the Panthers. They are tight end Ryan Izzo, defensive end Frank Herron, and defensive back Duke Dawson.

    Izzo was drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round in 2018. In three seasons with the Patriots he caught 19 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown. He was traded to the Texans last spring, and has since had practice squad stints with three other teams and was released by the Titans in early June during spring practices. The Panthers signed him late last week.

    Herron also joined the Patriots in 2018 as a UDFA from LS. He had two separate stints with the Patriots that year, as he was waived during final roster cuts then brought back on the practice squad in October. He made his NFL debut with the Lions in 2020, and has been with the Panthers on their practice squad since last year.

    Dawson was a second-round pick by the Patriots in 2018. However, he missed his the start of his rookie season due to an hamstring injury. Even once he was removed from IR, he remained a healthy scratch for the rest of the season. The following year, the Patriots traded him to the Denver Broncos for a sixth-round pick (later used on Justin Herron). Dawson appeared in 26 games for the Broncos between 2019 and 2020, then missed last season recovering from a torn ACL. He signed with the Panthers just before camp.

  • Future Patriots?

    Jun 8, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA;Rookies Ikem Ekwonu (79) blocks Cade Mays (64) during Carolina Panthers minicamp at Bank of America Stadium Practice Facility. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 8, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA;Rookies Ikem Ekwonu (79) blocks Cade Mays (64) during Carolina Panthers minicamp at Bank of America Stadium Practice Facility. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots have a history of signing or trading players they face in joint practices further down the road. Who on the Panthers fit the profile of future Patriots?

    Over the offseason, the Patriots were connected to Panthers wide receiver Robbie Anderson. In the past, Belichick has spoken highly of Anderson as well. Wide receiver depth isn’t a problem for the Patriots right now, but that can change quickly. Anderson is currently in the second year of a three-year deal that has a team-friendly opt out after this season.

    Usually though, these joint practice-related signings come a little further down the roster. So lets look at three rookies who play along the trenches.

    Starting on the offensive line, Cade Mays background screamed ‘Patriots’ coming out of Tennessee. A four year starter who spent time in two blue blood programs (he originally played at Georgia), Mays has experience playing all five spots along the offensive line. The Panthers took him in the sixth round, 199th overall (the Brady pick) in the draft.

    On the defensive line, Marquan McCall was another player who stood out as a potential Patriot during the pre-draft process. He’s an old-school nose tackle standing 6-foot-3, 350 pounds. With the Patriots now faster and more athletic at linebacker, they could better afford to have bigger, dedicated run stoppers along the defensive line situationally. McCall signed with the Panthers as a UDFA.

    Arron Mosby was one of the more fascinating under the radar prospects heading into this year’s draft. He was recruited by Fresno State as a hybrid wide receiver and defensive back. He stuck on the defensive side of the ball, but not in the secondary. Over his time in Fresno, he moved from safety to cornerback, then to linebacker, and eventually to defensive end. His profile fits a player who could be used anywhere from a pass-rush interior rusher to a box safety. However, because Mosby played so many different positions over his five year collegiate career, he never truly developed his skill set at any one of them. With that, he went undrafted before signing with the Panthers. Still, if he doesn’t make the roster in Carolina the Patriots are the kind of team that could make the most out of his versatility.

  • 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 @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.