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FOXBOROUGH – Day 2 of Patriots training camp is in the books.
The second day of New England’s preseason practices offered some different standouts than Day 1 did. Here are eight takeaways from the Patriots’ second summer practice.
Day 1 of training camp was the Mac Jones and DeVante Parker show. The second-year quarterback went 13-for-16, connecting with his new receiver for three touchdowns as part of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills in the red zone area.
Jones and the rest of the Patriots unit were humbled a bit on Thursday. The defense fared better than they did on Wednesday in the first few 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 sessions before dominating the 11-on-11 session that ended practice.
Jones and rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe threw 10 straight incompletions in the final session, with some misfires and some standout plays by the defensive backs happening along the way. Jones tried to hit Parker and Nelson Agholor for back corner throws in the end zone, overthrowing them both (Agholor caught his pass, but was out of bounds). Trent Brown also committed a false start during one of the plays.
The offense ended the day on a high note, though. Jones connected with tight end Hunter Henry for a touchdown, leading their unit to go crazy while the defensive players who were on the field for the score were summoned to do push-ups.
While Thursday’s practice was another padless one, the defensive backs were at a bit of a disadvantage because they were wearing mitts. Coaches wanted them to wear mitts on Thursday to avoid grabbing, making the 10 straight incompletions all the more impressive.
Patriots corner Jalen Mills embraces the back-and-forth affair between the two units.
“Offense kind of got us a little bit yesterday. We got them today,” Mills said. “That’s what you want in these camp days. We never want it to be one-sided. Offense gets us first day, we got them the second day. I’m pretty sure tomorrow when we go at it again that they’re going to be fired up to get us back.”
Prior to the defense dominating the final 11-on-11 session, the offense was performing better, especially during the 7-on-7 period.
Jones looked comfortable with the smaller session, completing 12 of his 13 passes. His play of the day came when he hit Parker on the back shoulder in the front corner of the end zone. Parker made a bit of an adjustment while the ball was in midair and secured it once he created separation from defensive back Jalen Mills.
“Mac sees where the defender is and put it in a great spot. I was just able to come down with it,” Parker said of the catch.
Parker said building chemistry with Jones “hasn’t been difficult at all.”
“We’ve been working with each other for a minute now,” Parker said. “We’ve just got to bring it out here every day. That’s all it is.”
“The connection with each other and also everyone else, he’s done a great job with that,” Parker added. “I’m just looking forward to it.”
Parker’s touchdown catches have sparked the crowd, with the receiver egging them on a bit to get loud, too.
“The crowd, they show a lot of support. Having the crowd here gets everyone hyped up and it’s something I look forward to.”
We might already have the answer as to who is taking J.C. Jackson’s spot at corner.
Terrance Mitchell, who was signed by the Patriots as a free agent after spending the 2021 season with the Texans, got first-team reps at corner opposite of Mills, who started at corner for much of last season.
Mitchell’s mostly held his own through the first couple of practices.
“Mitch has done a nice job for us. Another very experienced player,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of the eight-year pro. “He’s been in a couple of defensive systems. Some of the things we’ve asked him to do are a bit different, but he’s adapted well. He’s smart. He’s experienced. He’s a good, instinctive player. He’s had some good production through the opportunities that have been here. He understands what those are and aren’t and we’ll see how that goes with the padded part of training camp coming up.”
As for Mills, he became the full-time starting corner opposite of Jackson after the Patriots traded Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers in October of last season. Mills, who mostly played safety with the Eagles, was mostly known for his versatility as defensive player when the Patriots signed him in 2021, making the permanent placement at corner a different task for him.
After seeing some success as an outside corner during the Patriots’ seven-game win streak, Mills believes he has to prove he can play on the outside again.
“Expectations in the NFL [don’t mean anything]. It’s a prove-it-to-me league,” Mills said. “It doesn’t matter what I did last year. It doesn’t matter what anybody did last year, especially in this organization. Everything that you earn, you have to work for it. So, as far as me expecting something, I don’t expect anything. I just expect to get the work in and let the coaches decide.”
Mills feels confident in his position group, too, even after the departures of Jackson and Gilmore since the start of last season.
“The confidence comes from putting the work in each and every day,” Mills said. “Once the season gets here, you can ask me the question again, but right now it’s just focusing on the work.”
Joshuah Bledsoe might be the player buried the deepest on most projected depth charts that’s done a lot of work to potentially earn a spot on the final 53-man roster through the first two days of camp.
The second-year safety was active again on Day 2, breaking up or being in the vicinity of three passes during the team drills. He also had a pair of pass breakups on Day 1.
“Josh was flying around today,” Mills said of the 2021 sixth-round pick. “He kind of missed a little bit of [last season] because of his hand. So now getting the opportunity to show the coaches what he has is a big opportunity for him.”
Marcus Jones, who the Patriots selected in the third round of this year’s draft, was also a standout during the final 11-on-11 period. He closely covered a Mac Jones pass to Kendrick Bourne in the back corner of the end zone, forcing it incomplete. It was a bit of bounce-back day for Jojnes after getting beat by Parker on Wednesday.
Offensive line coach Matt Patricia was calling plays, via walkie-talkie, on Day 1 of training camp. He was calling plays again on Thursday.
Belichick was also active with coaching the offense a lot through Thursday’s practice, too. Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler joked that might have been why the defense was forced to take pushups after giving up a touchdown on the final play of 11-on-11s.
“It looks like Bill Belichick’s an offensive coach now,” Butler said with a smile. “He ain’t on our side no more.”
Quarterbacks coach Joe Judge was also holding a play sheet again. The former special teams coordinator also coached the quarterbacks, including Mac Jones, on catching and placeholding longsnaps.
The longtime veteran quarterback didn’t necessarily have the day off on Thursday. Hoyer was on the field and in uniform, standing around the quarterbacks, as usual, for much of practice. But he didn’t throw during 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s with Zappe getting the second-team reps on Thursday.
Along with Mitchell, the Patriots brought back an old friend of theirs to help replace J.C. Jackson. Butler, 32, didn’t play in 2021 though, briefly retiring for a season before opting to come back and play.
Butler said “I already think I have” when asked if he’s already knocked off the rust from taking a year off.
“I feel good. I feel pretty good. Not sore at all,” Butler said. “[I’m] just catching up to speed. Out here competing, getting in shape, learning defense again. Just out here having fun.”
Butler also said he hasn’t had to do any sort of re-adjusting in his second stint in New England.
“I’m just going with the flow, doing what I’m told, and working hard every day,” Butler said.
As for returning to New England, Butler said “It feels natural. It feels like home.”
Butler was out there for some of the reps on the final 11-on-11s in which the defense mostly shut down the offense.
Arguably the most cliched saying entering the preseason is when a player claims to be in the best shape of his life.
Stevenson, who was known for his physical, bruising running style as a rookie in 2021, said Thursday that he entered camp feeling “better overall” than he did as a rookie, saying he “got more lean.”
“Just the regular conditioning, to be honest,” Stevenson said of his offseason physical change. “I knew how I was last year. I didn’t really come in in the best shape. I just knew what I had to do and took those steps to get into better shape.”
Stevenson said he weighed 225 pounds, which is seven pounds less than he was when he entered camp as a rookie.
The slimmer Stevenson got more work in multiple areas on Thursday, too. In addition to getting carries, he was one of the top passing targets during team drills and was among those returning kick-offs (Nelson Agholor and J.J. Taylor were the others).
Stevenson, who only had 14 receptions on 18 targets last season, made it a goal this offseason to be more active in the passing game.
“I did a lot of [practicing on my receiving],” Stevenson said. “Running routes, getting better with my hands, and pass-protection. All of the above.”
Feeling better than he did a year ago, the second-year running back feels he can be more active as an overall player.
“I feel like I can run a lot more,” Stevenson said. “I feel better overall. I’m not really sure how to describe it. I just feel better.”
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