Patriots

5 takeaways from the practice field at Patriots OTAs

Cam Newton and Mac Jones led the way for the quarterbacks, and a few other observations from the media's first in-person look at the Patriots this season.

Mac Jones Brian Hoyer Cam Newton Patriots
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, center, passes the ball as Brian Hoyer and Cam Newton look on during OTAs on Thursday. Steven Senne/AP

The Patriots took the field for their second session of OTAs on Thursday. But it was the first time media members got a chance to see the new-look Patriots up close.

All eyes were on the quarterbacks Cam Newton and Mac Jones, who seem to be sitting atop the quarterback pecking order so far (at least for today).

But a few other players (and coaches) made big impressions as well on a lively first day of media coverage.

Here are a few takeaways from the on-the-field action at Patriots OTAs.

Cam Newton leads the way

For now, the Patriots’ offense remains Newton’s show.

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The veteran quarterback and incumbent starter was the first man up for every drill and generally looked sharp throwing the football — though his throwing motion doesn’t look dramatically different despite reports of tinkering with his mechanics.

He was also the most prominent voice on the offensive side of the field aside from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels throughout the practice, both encouraging and razzing teammates at times and acting almost as a second coach during team segments.

That charisma, as much as his on-field resume, is part of what endears him to teammates like newly added receiver Kendrick Bourne.

“Energy is amazing, man,” Bourne said of Newton. “A workhorse. He just knows how to keep the game fun. He knows when to turn it on and he knows when to turn it off and stuff like that. It’s just awesome to be around a guy that kinda matches energy like me. Whenever I get down or something, he’s there to pick me up. He’s that kinda guy. And when I do good he’s there too to push me and motivate me at the same time. So he’s just all-around a great teammate.”

McDaniels keeps the expectations high

Bill Belichick said earlier in the day that OTAs are less of an “evaluation” period and more of a “teaching” time for teams.

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And McDaniels was in mid-season form.

Media can’t repeat or paraphrase what coaches say on the practice field, but let’s just say McDaniels’s vocal frustration at the lack of perfect execution is exactly why that’s the case.

Any time there was an incorrect route run, a missed assignment on a blitz-pick up, and an incorrectly identified “Mike” — which Mac Jones was guilty of once — the coach’s displeasure was heard and the rep was run again.

Tight end Hunter Henry said that attention to detail is part of what makes McDaniels “phenomenal…even more than you think”:

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“It’s always good to have hands-on teaching,” he said of being able to learn in-person from McDaniels during OTAs. “You can never really – you can do it on your own, but until you get hands-on coaching, exactly what they want and what they see with the scheme and different routes, even run game wise, it’s hard to know that until you get really in there with the coaches.”

Mac Jones is as advertised

The red jerseys in the quarterback group read thusly Thursday: No. 1 (Cam Newton), No. 4 (Jarrett Stidham), No. 5 (Brian Hoyer), and…No. 50? What’s that undersized lineman doing playing quarterback?

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No, that’s the first-round pick Jones. He’s the latest rookie to wear an unusual jersey during OTAs – something Jakobi Meyers talked about this week.

He went second in each drill behind Newton and was paired with the presumptive starter whenever the quarterbacks groups were divided up to work with running backs and receivers.

The rookie’s focus on anticipating throws and getting the ball out of his hands quickly stood out in drills, as did his accuracy (for the most part). Jones only had one “uncatchable” throw all day – a high throw off a receiver’s hands during early drills – though he had a few completions where he was visibly unsatisfied with his ball placement.

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But if only hitting the receiver right between the numbers on almost every single throw is the biggest issue he has on the field right now, you’ll take that from the youngster.

“You just can feel his energy and his leadership already,” Bourne said of his rookie quarterback. “He has a swag to him that I didn’t know that he had at first. He’s out there confident and that’s what you need in a quarterback, and in all our players.

New pass-catchers shine in practice

With Jonnu Smith not on the practice field, Henry led the way for the tight end group throughout the day.

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His leadership wasn’t just evident in his being first on the field for every drill.

During with the quarterbacks, Henry and the rest of the tight ends were faking “stick” routes then running deep down the seam. At one point, coaches chided Matt LaCosse for not selling his “stick” route fully and looking all the way back toward the quarterback before heading up the field.

On the very next rep, Henry drew praise on the same route, smoothly executing the fake.

Then, in an unfilmed seven-on-seven team drill, Nelson Agholor made a splash by hauling in a deep over-the-shoulder bomb from Brian Hoyer down the right sideline, running past cornerback Joejuan Williams.

Agholor was brought in to make plays just like that one for a Patriots offense that too often lacked explosiveness in 2020. He certainly looked like the fastest and most explosive player on the field, at least on the offensive side of the ball, on Thursday.

Gilmore, Judon, other veterans absent

Thursday’s offseason workout was well-attended, with many prominent names slotting in at their normal positions.

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But several other big names skipped the voluntary workouts, including cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, tight end Jonnu Smith, and linebackers Matthew Judon, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy.

The Patriots, like many other teams across the league, have seen some veterans stay away from voluntary OTAs.

But Bourne cited the importance of acclimating to his new environment and the desire to get value reps in as reasons for attending.

“The relationships is the biggest thing to me. Getting close to my teammates,” he said. “Knowing them as men before the field and stuff like that. That’s the key. We get to know each other before we get to camp and stuff like that. So a lot of guys are here and it’s just awesome to break the ice with a lot them before. Because the more you can trust the guy next to you, the better you feel. The more you know he’s on his assignment so you can be successful. So it’s been awesome all along.”

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