Analysis

Takeaways from Day 1 of Patriots training camp, including a ‘meh’ QB competition

Both Cam Newton and Mac Jones had up-and-down moments on the first day of Patriots training camp.

Cam Newton Patriots
Cam Newton. Steven Senne/AP

Patriots football is officially back, and the verdict is in: the defense is good.

That might not be what everyone wanted to hear with a highly anticipated quarterback battle brewing, but what can you say? That was the story.

The defense came up with two interceptions, batted down multiple passes, and largely outplayed the offense on Day 1 of Patriots training camp.

The quarterback competition started slow.

Without pads on, it’s hard to say the needle has truly moved on any quarterback “competition” just yet.

But Day 1 of the Cam Newton-Mac Jones face-off goes to…neither, really.

Both quarterbacks had solid moments and crisp throws in the red zone drills the team almost exclusively worked on throughout the day.

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Newton unleashed a few rockets for scores, including one along the backline to Kristian Wilkerson and a well-placed back-shoulder throw to N’Keal Harry with tight coverage from Jalen Mills. He also scrambled for a score during 11-on-11 drills when he couldn’t find an open man, an important element to his game he’s rarely shown during non-padded practices.

Jones, on the other hand, had some beautifully placed throws to the back corners on both sides of the end zone, hitting Kendrick Bourne on several such throws. His ability to go through progressions without losing composure stood out, including on one play where he worked all the way from right to left before finding Nelson Agholor in the back corner of the end zone.

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But both also had plays they’d like back.

Newton had two interceptions on the day. The first came on a pass dropped by James White that popped into the air (not his fault) — White even ran a lap for the drop. But the second was a bad throw behind Hunter Henry in the end zone that was picked by safety Adrian Phillips. While he was generally decent in terms of accuracy, his last segment, which ended with four straight misses, stood out in the wrong way.

Meanwhile, Jones mishandled a shotgun snap at one point and had to scramble, resulting in him running a lap around the field as punishment. He also had one end zone throw that would’ve been picked by Joejuan Williams if the cornerbacks weren’t wearing large mitts on their hands to avoid holding penalties. He also went through an 0-4 stretch in his last segment before hitting Harry to end the day.

The biggest issue on the day for Jones: fitting balls into tight windows. When he can throw receivers open or his receivers have room to operate, his anticipation and ball placement consistently win. But defensive backs harrassed his throws at the point of the catch multiple times to force incompletions. His arm strength is fine, but the consequences of having just average velocity against NFL competition showed itself.

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All in all, both were fine, though not spectacular, overall. Jones had the best throws of the day on average, continuing to show off why the Patriots drafted him in Round 1. But some of the rookie mistakes and a few errant throws make it hard to say he definitively won the day.

No one’s winning the starting quarterback job after one day of camp regardless. But no one won it today, either.

Adrian Phillps leads defensive charge.

After playing out of position for much of last year, Phillips looks comfortable in his second season with the Patriots.

He showed what he could do on multiple occasions Wednesday.

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Newton went after him three times in red-zone drills — twice on goal-line fades and once with Henry. Phillips knocked down the first two, including one acrobatic deflection on a pass intended for Jonnu Smith, and robbed Newton on his poorly thrown ball to Henry.

The veteran safety says he enjoyed getting a chance to go against the prized free-agent tight ends, especially his old Los Angeles Chargers teammate Henry.

“That’s my guy right there,” Phillips said with a laugh about the interception. “He was waving me out there when it was time for the play because every time we go against each other it’s a battle. It was fun to get one.”

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He wasn’t the only defender to get his hands on a ball Wednesday.

New linebacker Raekwon McMillan grabbed White’s tipped ball for an interception. Dont’a Hightower knocked down a Brian Hoyer pass early in practice. Michael Jackson Sr. dug a ball out of Devin Ross’s hands to force an incompletion. Even defensive lineman Davon Godchaux got in on the act, batting down a Jones pass at the line of scrimmage.

Phillips said that’s what the defense hopes to do every time they’re out on the field.

“Our mindset is always to get the ball and keep them out of the end zone,” he said. “So we’re going to focus on that every day. Whatever the script is for practice, that’s what Coach Belichick makes it. But every time the ball is in the air, our mindset is “it’s ours.” I don’t really know if we get more balls on more days, or maybe not later in camp. But our mindset is always to get the ball.

A few big names in, a few big names out.

As expected, star cornerback Stephon Gilmore (PUP list) was nowhere to be seen at Patriots training camp. He’s still recovering from a torn quad and waiting it out with the organization over a new contract.

In his absence, Jalen Mills once again moved over to the cornerback side and got the majority of the reps opposite J.C. Jackson.

Other notable PUP absences included quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who had arguably the strongest camp out of any of the team’s four passers in the spring, and edge rusher Chase Winovich.

Stidham could be a strong candidate to make the roster when he returns, but he’ll need to return soon to prove he belongs over veteran Brian Hoyer. Meanwhile, Winovich is no lock to make the team with a loaded outside linebacker room ahead of him, especially if he misses significant time.

On the other hand, the Patriots got both Trent Brown and Kyle Van Noy off the PUP list and onto the practice field.

Brown practiced without restrictions and started at right tackle as expected. Van Noy, however, wore a red non-contact jersey when he was on the field and took it relatively easy in his reps.

Still, having those two veterans healthy and playing was a bright spot on Day 1 of camp.

Day 2 kicks off Thursday morning, same time, same place.

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