The New England Patriots’ training camp may slowly be winding down, but there is still a lot going on in Foxborough these days. The New York Giants are in town for a pair of joint practices, after all, and the first of those sessions already was an eventful one.
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who again took all starter-level reps with Cam Newton absent due to an apparent “misunderstanding” with Coronavirus protocols, dominated the day. His outstanding performance against a solid defense obviously stood out, but it was not the only story worth talking about.
With that said, let’s clean out the notebook before turning our attention to joint practice No. 2.
Mac Jones earns his teammates’ respect
Earlier this week, team captain Matthew Slater noted that Mac Jones commands his teammates’ respect. Wednesday’s practice was a perfect example of that, with the first-round rookie joining offensive linemen and coaches in a penalty lap after a skirmish. Jones was not involved in the scrum, which was started by Michael Onwenu and Giants defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence during a 2-on-2 blocking drill, but he still ran with his teammates.
It’s the little things that earn respect, but Jones participating in the penalty lap surely was one of them.
Deatrich Wise Jr. explains the ‘beautiful’ growth of the Patriots defense
While the Patriots offense stole the show on Wednesday, the defense also put the clamps on the Giants. Whether it was pass rush or coverage, New England made life hard for New York and its quarterback, Daniel Jones.
After the session, defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. talked to reporters about how the unit as a whole is progressing.
“I think our defense is definitely growing in confidence and growing in chemistry,” he said. “One of the things that have been very impressive is how we’ve been able to grow together, round out together. Week-in and week-out we’re improving; coverage, pass rush, it’s just all coming together.”
Now in his fifth season with the Patriots, Wise Jr. has grown into a leader within the entire unit. He also spoke about where he can observe the growth he mentioned.
“I see it everywhere,” he said. “It’s not so much just one thing. It’s old guys leading young guys; young guys pushing the older guys. It’s a healthy relationship that’s going on in our D-line, in our linebacking group, and our DB group. It’s just beautiful.”
Jakobi Meyers has become a mentor for Kendrick Bourne
Even though Kendrick Bourne has plenty of experience at the NFL level as a four-year veteran, joining the Patriots is a new and unfamiliar challenge. Accordingly, the free agency pickup is trying to follow the example of a longer-tenured member of New England’s wide receiver group: Jakobi Meyers.
Meyers has developed into a mentor of sorts for Bourne as he explained on Wednesday.
“Jakobi’s been awesome, I’ve been learning from him a lot,” he said. “He’s been here for a while. Just learning everything he knows, picking his brain, and trying to get acclimated as much as he is. Him, Gunner [Olszewski], and all those guys that have been here for a while, they know how it is, how the coaches want us, and stuff like that. Just learning from them every day has been good. It’s speeding my process up of learning everything.”
So, what exactly is Meyers helping Bourne with?
“Everything,” he said. “Motions, how he studies, stuff like that. We’re moving between different positions all the time; we have different packages. So, just ways he remembers stuff, and ways it will click for me. If it works for him that way, maybe it might work for me, maybe it won’t. It’s just different ways to make it click in my mind.”
Rhamondre Stevenson is getting RB2 reps
With Sony Michel getting traded to the Los Angeles Rams, the Patriots’ running back group was shaken up significantly. While Damien Harris remains the number one ball carrier, especially in early-down situations, the spot behind him is open for competition.
Based on how New England used its backs in drills on Wednesday, Rhamondre Stevenson might be the frontrunner. The fourth-round rookie was the next man up after Harris. While that alone might not be an indicator about his standing on the depth chart, or indeed his outlook for the 2021 season, it is still noteworthy: there is a chance that Stevenson will not be redshirted in the same fashion as other rookie running backs in years past.
Jakob Johnson wants to be a ‘German Army Knife’ for the Patriots
Few players in recent memory have had quite the same journey to the Patriots as Jakob Johnson. A tight end at the University of Tennessee, he went undrafted and spent time in the German Football League before applying for the NFL’s International Pathway Program. New England picked him up as a roster exempt 91st player with little chances of actually making the team.
However, Johnson had a strong training camp and preseason performance in 2019 and was put on the practice squad. He eventually was promoted to the 53-man roster after James Develin was lost to a season-ending injury, and in 2020 took over as the clear-cut fullback — a role he has held ever since.
What has helped him do that is his work ethic, and his willingness to fill whichever role the coaches might have in mind for him.
“‘The more you can do,’ is kind of what they say around here,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “I just try to help out where I can and try to provide reps for the team and help the team win. Hope to be a ‘German Army Knife,’ if that makes sense. I try carve out a role on this team and try to help the team win, so whatever that means I’m down for it.”
Johnson’s versatility extends beyond playing fullback or lining up at a tight end position every now and then. Back during his rookie preseason in 2019, he also saw a handful of snaps as an outside linebacker.
Granted, the Patriots will not use him in that fashion, but it shows his athletic skills and ability to not just be versatile on paper.
“I show up and I go where the coaches tell me to go. Strap my chinstrap and go,” he said. “If I’m with the running backs one day, with the tight ends one day, then that’s fine with me. We have a lot of guys in all these rooms that work really hard. And we have a lot of good coaches that do their best to get us ready to go. The more I can take those lessons from different position groups and incorporate them, the better.”
Dee Virgin is making his presence felt
The Patriots have a deep cornerback depth chart, but Dee Virgin is trying his best to carve out a role. On Wednesday, the fifth-year man had a solid performance. Not only did he register a pass breakup, he also saw considerable action on special teams: with starting gunner Justin Bethel absent for undisclosed reasons, Virgin took over as the top guy opposite Matthew Slater.
The kicking game is the way onto the roster for multiple players. The same might be true for Virgin when all is said and done, even though he still has to be considered a long-shot to make the club.