What to watch for during Patriots-Raiders joint practices
August 23rd, 2022
L-R: CB Jonathan Jones, WR Kendrick Bourne (Getty Images)
It’s come down to crunch time at Patriots training camp. The team has two competitive practices left – joint practices with the Las Vegas Raiders, followed by the preseason finale, and then final roster cuts.
Depending on usage in the preseason game, this week’s practice reps could be the last chance players have to audition for coaches ahead of the roster deadline next Tuesday. That means the last chance for bubble players to prove they belong. It applies to projected roster players as well, especially those who may be competing for spots on the depth chart. For those players, who likely won’t see as many reps Friday night, this is really their last chance to leave a lasting impression.
Which players have the most to gain this week? Let’s look at that, and other big storylines to watch heading into this week’s joint practices.
Patriots cornerbacks will be tested
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 14: Wide receiver Davante Adams #17 of the Las Vegas Raiders warms up before a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium on August 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
Heading into last week’s joint practices, we highlighted how the Patriots’ receivers would be tested by the Panthers’ duo of top-10 draft pick boundary cornerbacks in Jaycee Horn and C.J. Henderson. This week, it will be the opposing wide receivers testing the Patriots’ cornerbacks.
The Raiders have one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL. Offseason acquisition Davante Adams highlights that group, with Hunter Renfrow joining him after posting a 103-catch, 1,038-yard season last year. Then of course there’s tight end Darren Waller, who often gets matched up with cornerbacks as much as safeties. Keelan Cole and Mack Hollins offer strong depth.
With a week to go until roster cuts, no position on the Patriots roster needs more sorting out than cornerback. Will Jonathan Jones end up on the boundary over Terrance Mitchell? If he does, will Myles Bryant or rookie Marcus Jones take over in the slot? How ready is Jack Jones? Can Shaun Wade show enough to grab an ‘at-large’ roster spot? Given the talent level they’ll be matching up against, there will be plenty of chances for the Patriots’ coaching staff to evaluate these players and find answers to these questions this week.
Sorting things out at inside linebacker
Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Raekwon McMillan (46) runs at New York Giants wide receiver Collin Johnson (15) during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Multiple times this summer, Patriots players and coaches have told us that Ja’Whaun Bentley is the on-field and off-field leader of the linebacker room. Expect him to factor in heavily on the Patriots’ defense this year.
Behind him though, the picture isn’t as clear. Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson both have looked like contributing rotational players throughout camp, and Jahlani Tavai has come on strong as of late as well.
Last week, McMillan was the second most involved player of the group behind Bentley, followed closely by Tavai. Wilson didn’t get on the field until the second quarter of Friday’s game, but played with both McMillan and Tavai.
Each of those three players now has one week to push for more playing time in what appears to be a tight competition. It’s also a big week for Cameron McGrone, who entered this summer with a lot of fanfare but has yet to stick out.
Can Kendrick Bourne get back on track?
Jun 8, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) during the New England Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
After not producing much at the start of training camp, it looked like Kendrick Bourne was starting to turn the corner last week. He had a couple of catches early on in Tuesday’s joint practice for the Panthers, but couldn’t build off that momentum when he was sent off the field for fighting. When he returned on Wednesday, he was working mostly with the projected second team offense. Bourne was then held out of Friday’s game.
On Monday Bourne returned to the field, joining the Patriots for their solo practice in Las Vegas. The question now is what will his role look like in the more competitive sessions the rest of the week.
Prior to training camp, Bourne projected to be a potential breakout star for the Patriots. He posted 800 yards in his first year in the offense, getting better as the year went on. He’s clearly built a strong chemistry with Mac Jones, both on and off the field. On top of all of that, he was one of the most team-friendly deals for a wide receiver in the NFL, with a cap hit under $7 million both this year and next year.
With Tyquan Thornton expected to miss the start of the year, Bourne’s impact becomes even more crucial – especially if the Patriots want to trade Nelson Agholor. After a couple of days off, can he start to reach towards that potential? This will be a big week for him if he wants to hit the ground running when the regular season begins.
Game on at right tackle
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
On Monday, Isaiah Wynn returned returned to the practice field for the first time in over a week. In his absence, Yodny Cajuste put together a strong showing at right tackle. As Wynn rejoins the team, he may come back to find himself in a battle for his position. With a report on Monday indicating the Patriots have held trade discussions involving Wynn, that looks to be the case.
Both Wynn and Cajuste will have a chance to really turn heads this week, working against the Raiders’ strong group of edge rushers highlighted by Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. This is a competition that could come right down to the wire.
A big week for conditioning
Bill Belichick speaks with media prior to Raiders joint practices (Marc Cappello/98.5 The Sports Hub)
The last couple weeks have been warm in New England, but they’ve been nothing compared to what the Patriots will experience in Las Vegas this week. The high temperature on Monday was 105 degrees, with an expected high of 108 on Tuesday. Things finally cool down on Wednesday, to a mild 103 degrees. Don’t forget to bring a jacket for that one!
Seriously though, Patriots players have already started talking about how the heat will help with their conditioning, especially for their Week 1 game against Miami. Sure, it’s a dry heat versus the South Florida humidity, but get ready to hear that line quite a bit over the next couple of days.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – AUGUST 14: Head coach Josh McDaniels of the Las Vegas Raiders walks off the field after a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings at Allegiant Stadium on August 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Vikings 26-20. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
With head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler leaving the Patriots to join the Raiders this past spring for their current roles, there’s no shortage of crossover between the two teams. McDaniels has quickly brought an influx of Patriots talent out to Vegas.
We already mentioned Chandler Jones, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of former Patriots now in the desert. Other familiar names Patriots fans can expect to hear this week are quarterback Jarrett Stidham, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Jakob Johnson, wide receivers Isaiah Zuber and Chris Lazy, tight end Jacob Hollister, offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, defensive end Tashawn Bower, and safety Duron Harmon.
The Raiders’ coaching staff is also full of former Patriots. McDaniels brought a number of offensive staffers with him including former Patriots wide receivers coach and new Raiders offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi. Others who made the switch with McDaniels include offensive line coaches Carmen Bricillo and Cameron Clemmons, and quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree. Former Patriots assistants also found a new home in Vegas in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, defensive assistant Rob Ryan, and offensive assistant Jerry Schuplinski.
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – AUGUST 20: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa #69 of the Las Vegas Raiders sacks quarterback Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on August 20, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
As was mentioned in the Patriots-Panthers joint practice preview last week, the Patriots have a history of signing players they face in joint practices if not immediately then further down the road. It makes sense, given they get a much closer look at those players than they would otherwise.
When it comes to the Raiders, we’ll start with the tight ends. Right now it’s tough to tell if the Patriots will keep a third tight end on their roster or not. Even with Devin Asiasi putting together a good week last week, that job still feels unclaimed. If they look to fill it externally, the Raiders would be a good team to look at with an abundance of tight end depth.
Heading into this final week of camp, Jacob Hollister and Nick Bowers appear to be batting for the final tight end spot on the roster. Hollister has already had a stint with the Patriots (they signed him as a UDFA in 2017). Bowers also projects as a fit. The 2020 UDFA is a talented blocker and has the size to contribute at the line of scrimmage at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. He looks like a Patriots’ third tight end.
On defense, we’ll look at a pair of UDFAs who were Patriots fits leading up to the draft. Defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa – cousin of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa – high a high-motor player who was a captain at Notre Dame. At 6-foot-2, 270 pounds he’s an athletic run stopping end.
In the secondary, safety Isaiah Pola-Mao was at one point considered a potential top 50 pick but missed significant time over the last two years with a shoulder injury. If he’s healthy though, he’s the kind of physically-imposing box safety the Patriots love – especially at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. He’s gotten off to a strong start to camp this summer. If either Tagovailoa-Amosa or Pola-Mao don’t end up on the Raiders’ roster, they’d be logical targets for the Patriots, especially if they can get them on the practice squad.
Former Alabama running back Kenyan Drake was originally going to be included in this section as well, as a possible depth option if the Patriots don’t feel their rookie running backs are ready to contribute right away. However, Drake was released Monday afternoon, meaning he won’t be taking part in the joint practices this week.
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.