I made my return to Gillette Stadium for Wednesday’s training camp. Watching the Patriots without Tom Brady is like watching a movie without popcorn. Yeah, it is manageable, but it feels like something is missing.
I had the chance to experience a new era of Patriots football, glued to the action in front of me. So many thoughts rushed through my head. There was so much I wanted to watch, but I’m only human. I had to pick my battles.
There is a lot to recap from my morning in Foxboro, so let’s start with a specific battle.
Super Cam vs. Big Mac: Mac wins the popular vote
I walked through the gates, sat down on the damp grass, and locked my eyes locked in on players in front of me. The question of Brady’s replacement loomed over New England for the last few years; however, I doubt fans imagined Cam Newton being an option. Unfortunately, they seem to wish he wasn’t after today.
On my morning web show, the Pitts Stop, I asked passing fans who they believed played better, Newton or Jones. I predicted it would be a split vote; I chose incorrectly. Nearly every person felt Jones had the better day. Jones did outperform Newton, but not by much.
Both QBs looked good during drills, but the scrimmage brought out their weaknesses. Newton threw two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Jones threw one interception. They seemed to be running the drills in slow motion. Newton lacked a sense of urgency, while Jones failed to execute plays.
The highlight of the day came off of a Mac Jones deep lob pass to Jakobi Myers on a corner route. He placed it in Myers’ breadbasket. It reminded me of Tom. Mac goes into Thursday’s practice with the momentum, but Newton has displayed spurts of his MVP season. His arm looks like it has healed pretty well.
Birthday Bourne impresses fans; N’Keal Harry is large.
I stand with Belichick’s method of improving his receivers. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne’s playstyles fit the Patriots’ current offense. Both performed well, especially Bourne, who made a highlight catch in the corner of the end zone. Cam threw the pass.
Agholor confirmed my doubts about exceeding expectations in the first two days of camp. He impressed me with his route running, but most importantly, his pass-catching. He caught every pass tossed his way. It did not matter who threw him the ball; the result was the same.
I jotted mental notes about both players throughout these drills. Then, I glanced to the left side of the field, a gigantic human in pads caught my attention. N’Keal Harry is one giant receiver; he has been one massive problem to the organization that drafted him with the 32nd pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He has failed to reach 500 receiving yards and finished with a catch percentage under 60% in his first two seasons.
The trade request seems to be swept under the rug, but Harry remains practicing with the second team. Jakobi Myers played well enough a season ago to earn his way back into a starting role. On the other hand, he may have played well enough to ship Harry out of Boston for a sixth-rounder.
Tight End University of New England
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Belichick signed Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith for a specific purpose, providing the QB with a safety valve. Both players fall into a unique situation where both QBs rely on tight ends to move the ball downfield.
Henry and Smith bring a significant improvement to a dormant offense. Jonnu Smith finished with ⅔ as many touchdowns as the entire Patriots receiving corp, while Henry finished 2020 with better stats than them.
The duo will not be another version of Gronk and Hernandez. Belichick will use Henry and Smith in multiple formations and packages this season. They teased some trickery with the tandem on Wednesday.
Kansas City popularized this with the various ways Travis Kelce helps the offense. Belichick is football’s mad scientist. If the man can introduce the two-point conversion, he’ll introduce a new use for the position.
Today was not my only appearance at training camp. The only thing stopping me from attending is Mother Nature. Hopefully, Cam can bounce back with a better performance. He failed to show any concern towards his shoulder, thank god.