The New England Patriots logged their mellowest practice session on Friday, with coach Bill Belichick enjoying the laid-back day to chat with his buddy, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
Of course, New England isn’t slacking. The team is just pacing itself for what will be a marathon of practices, including two-a-days, over the next month. So Friday’s session was slower than the other two practices. It’s possible — and likely — that Saturday’s session will be the slowest, with the team stepping into pads on Monday for their first contact practice. That’s the moment the players, coaches and media have been waiting for. That’s when positional battles begin.
So here’s what we saw on Day 3.
The top takeaway: The Patriots aren’t afraid to experiment with their defensive backs
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The Patriots seemed to give safety Devin McCourty a rest day. Combine that with the team’s uncertainty at the cornerback position and New England was messing around with its top defensive unit on Friday. Safety Joshuah Bledsoe spent a lot of time at safety alongside Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. Cornerback Marcus Jones was getting work in the slot with the top defensive unit. Jones even played some safety with the second defensive group. They were featured heavily as New England scales up practices.
It’s clear they’re unsure of how their secondary will come together, particularly with Jonathan Jones still not practicing.
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David Andrews and Jake Bailey returned to the field in shells. Andrews was a full participant. Newcomer Josh Hammond, a receiver who signed on Thursday, was present for practice. Rookie running back Pierre Strong started the practice in conditioning but joined the team in a walkthrough for the first time this camp. He only watched, but perhaps he’s nearing a return.
Notable presence: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. More on that later.
The little details
The weather: Heavy clouds. Heat climbed to 90 degrees. Fairly humid.
The pad level: Shells. No pads until Monday. No contact.
The energy: The practice was more subdued. Though Jonnu Smith and Kyle Dugger had a heated battle that seemed to get a tiny bit chippy. More on that.
Biggest winner: Tight end Jonnu Smith
(AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Smith was one of Jones’ favorite targets in the red area on Friday, with the two players linking up on two 5-yard touchdowns over the course of a three-play span. Both times Smith beat Dugger.
On the first touchdown, Smith leaped into the air and showed great body control to stay in bounds and tap his feet at the back of the end zone. On Smith’s second of that period, Jones and Smith showed good chemistry. Jones zipped the ball to Smith’s back shoulder in traffic — right where Dugger couldn’t defend the throw.
Honorable mention: Cornerback Terrance Mitchell
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Mitchell has been off the radar in my notes, but not because he hasn’t been playing. It’s because he’s kept his receivers quiet. Maybe he’s not logging interceptions or pass breakups, but his wideouts are drawing the interest of Jones, which is largely due to strong coverage from Mitchell. So rather than doing the “biggest loser” category that I do most days, I figured I’d focus on the positive and give Mitchell the floors. I asked Belichick about Mitchell, and it appears the coach has been impressed.
“He’s adapted well,” Belichick said of Mitchell on Thursday. “He’s smart, he’s experienced, he’s a good instinctive player and he’s had some good production through the opportunities while we’ve been here, and understanding what those are and aren’t. We’ll see how that goes when we get the padded training camp practice going.
Everything else that’s important
With David Andrews back in action, he was on the field with left tackle Trent Brown, left guard Cole Strange, right guard Michael Onwenu and right tackle Isaiah Wynn. The flipping of Brown and Wynn is holding strong into camp.
Matt Patricia remained in charge of the offense during team drills. He was again calling plays and working closely with Jones between plays. That said, The Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels saw Belchick calling plays during 11-on-11s at one point. So… who the heck knows what’s happening?
Defensive tackle Davon Godchuax managed to get his hands on one of Jones’ passes. The ball fell incomplete. Good push from
Bill Belichick has a habit of chatting up visiting coaches during practice. In years past, he’d burn hours of his practices while his coordinators took care of practice. Belichick did just that on Friday. He hung with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, one of Belichick’s good friends, in the center of practice for the first 30 minutes. Kirk’s son James is playing for the Patriots.
Cornerback Marcus Jones muffed a punt and ran a lap. He was among returners Tre Nixon and Kyle Dugger.
As rough as Zappe has been, he had a brilliant throw into the corner of the end zone to Ty Montgomery from 15 yards out. Montgomery beat Shaun Wade, who couldn’t rip the ball away as they went to the ground. A few plays later, Zappe turfed a check down to Kevin Harris, which led to Belichick pulling Zappe aside for a few coaching points.
Belichick spent time with cornerback Jack Jones during the special teams period to work with him on punt coverage. Jones is in the mix. Jones did also spend time with the first defensive unit.
For the 7-on-7 red zone drill, the cornerbacks were all wearing mittens that prevented them from grabbing the receivers. It provided a significant disadvantage, with Jones going so far as to indicate he thought one of his touchdowns to Tre Nixon was an incompletion. Nixon and Shaun Wade got tied up and Wade couldn’t rip away the ball, clearly because of the mitts.
Given the offense struggled so significantly in the red zone to finish on Thursday, Jones’ early success on Friday was impressive. He went 7/8 in the opening 7-on-7 red zone session.
You know you have problems when Justin Bethel, a special teams ace but a liability at cornerback, is catching an interception with mitts. Zappe has had issues reading defenses.