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New England Patriots News 06-13, Patriots With The Most to Prove in 2021

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
5 months ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

New England Patriots News 06-13, Patriots With The Most to Prove in 2021David Kohl - USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-13 this morning. 

The Patriots will hold their three-day mandatory minicamp this week between June 15 and June 17. That will be the first time that the entire team is slated to be together on the field. 

Have you checked out our NFL team news feature for all 32 teams yet? It is a great resource to keep up with what is going on all across the NFL. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL: 

Dont’a Hightower: Retiring? Hmm, it doesn’t appear so with the veteran linebacker making his first appearance since 2019 at “voluntary” OTAs. Joining Hightower were several other veterans making their debut this spring including Matt Judon, Devin McCourty, Trent Brown, Adrian Phillips, and J.C. Jackson.

From the pictures shown and by nearly all of the media in attendance, the Patriots captain appeared a bit leaner and was moving about quite nicely in prepping for the team’s mandatory minicamp that begins on Tuesday.

With the return of Hightower (opt-out), bringing back Kyle Van Noy after a year in Miami, signing Judon and Raekwon McMillan, and having veteran JaWhaun Bentley along with second-year LBs Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings on board should – on paper – produce much better results with a much-improved pass rush in 2021. 

Dont’a Hightower was back at Gillette this week during OTAs. (Greg M. Cooper – USA TODAY Sports)

Brandon Bolden: The Patriots’ long-time running back and special teams’ standout was one of the players who switched his number this year. Bolden who is one of the most popular players among fans and inside the locker room has always worn #38, but this season he’s wearing #25. Why? Simple actually.

Bolden took to Instagram to address that. “So yesterday I was asked ‘Why I changed my number,’ ” Bolden said. “Well long story short my Grandfather wore it for 11 years and I thought it would be best that he at least saw his oldest grandson play in the same number he played in, even though it’s the NFL now and not the AFL he remembers.”

Bolden’s grandfather Frank Pitts won a Super Bowl with the KC Chiefs over Minnesota and also played for Cleveland and Oakland. 

Tre Nixon: The Patriots’ new wide receiver was asked this week about being the final draft selection personally announced by Ernie Adams and then meeting Adams on his first day at the facility. 

“Still to this day, I get chills going back and watching that video,” Nixon said, on a conference call with the media. “It’s funny because Ernie, the day one when I reported here, he was one of the first people I saw in the building. So, I instantly smiled, introduced myself, he introduced himself, and ever since then, I’m in his debt. I owe him a lot. I really respect that dude.”

Mac Jones: The Patriots rookie quarterback got his own nickname from Cam Newton who has one for everyone. While it isn’t completely original, it is apt. Jones’ new nickname “Mac and Cheese”.

However, one aspect of OTAs, that was first pointed out by Jeff Howe of The Athletic, is that Bill Belichick is already throwing multiple looks at the rookie QB, accelerating the learning process. 

It’s been clear, not just Thursday but in the prior viewing sessions, that Bill Belichick’s defense is not throwing vanilla looks at the rookie. That’s why he’s had some stretches of check-downs in previous workouts. It’d be more concerning if the defense was lining up in base with predictable coverages, but they’re working Jones pretty hard.

Hunter Henry: One of the Patriots’ two big TE signings seemingly dodged a bullet this week during OTAs. Henry got his feet tangled up in a matchup with safety Adrian Colbert early in 11-on-11 drills. He slowly exited the field and had his ankle taped up. He tested it on the sidelines but didn’t return, watching the rest of the session from the sidelines.  However, he did return for the blocking assignment on field goal attempts. 

Fortunately, the injury didn’t appear to be serious, and we’ll see if Henry is present during the upcoming mandatory minicamp this week. 

Salary Cap Questions? Ask Miguel: There is no one with more knowledge when it comes to NE’s salary cap than our old buddy Miguel Benzan aka @Patscap. If you’re going anywhere else for salary cap information, you’re doing yourself a disservice. 

4th & 2 Podcast – If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, you should check it out. The three of us finally got back in the studio this week and discussed OTAs and some of the latest news.  

Russ Francis/ Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Patriots With the Most to Prove in 2021:

The Patriots’ made a lot of additions during free agency and the draft and with two tight ends and two wide receivers added early during free agency highlighted the need for the skill position players to be much better in 2021. But it isn’t just those positions that will bear close watching this season…let’s take a look at them. 

N’Keal Harry – The favorite whipping target for Patriots fans, Harry caught 33 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, numbers far below what was expected of a former 1st round (32nd overall), draft pick. 

Harry’s season began well enough, he caught 18 passes in the first five games for 169 yards and a touchdown and played in almost 80 percent of the offensive snaps. But after Julian Edelman was sidelined, Harry missed time with a concussion and his season slipped down the tubes.

After being the subject of trade rumors nearly all spring, Harry is still here and is facing a make-or-break season with the Patriots. While the Patriots added the speedy Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne during free agency and still having Jakobi Meyers (59 catches 729 yards, but still looking for his first NFL TD), Harry will no doubt be relegated to a fourth but specific role in the offense. 

He has the size to be a red-zone or perimeter possession-type of wide receiver. But he’ll have to be used much differently than previously where the team asked him to run only short slants or crossers. Training camp will be huge for Harry this summer.

Cam Newton will be trying to hold off Mac Jones in training camp. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Cam Newton – The Patriots QB and former league MVP had a thoroughly forgettable 2020 season. With no OTAs or minicamps, Newton entered a limited training camp cold and had a decent start to the season. But he was never the same after suffering from COVID-19 when he missed the Chiefs game. 

Newton posted career-low numbers in many categories but considering his lack of off-season work and a very limited group of receivers and non-existent tight end production, was it all his fault? We’ll soon find out. 

The Patriots brought back Newton for one year and then used the #15 pick of the draft on Mac Jones. So, the future belongs to the rookie from Alabama, even though they didn’t like him enough to move up for him (insert sarcasm font). But what about the present. Bill Belichick made it clear that Newton is the starting QB until someone unseats him. 

Newton was present for all of the OTAs until suffering a hand injury last week, which may sideline him until training camp. But with the additions at wide receiver and especially tight end, there is no excuse for the passing game of the Patriots to not be vastly improved in 2021. The Patriots’ offense has traditionally been much more effective when it goes through the tight end. And now the team has two very productive ones. Newton’s best seasons were when he leaned on Greg Olsen with the Panthers. 

Now Newton has the supporting cast around him, and worked with a throwing coach this offseason, and has had a year under his belt with the offense. In a perfect world, Newton would have a solid 2021, allow Jones to learn the offense and from him, and then have Jones take over in 2020. Training camp will be very intriguing to watch how the two QBs fare this summer. 

Nelson Agholor – Right or wrong Agholor will be a lightning rod for criticism if the wide receiver doesn’t get off to a good start this season. After the Patriots opted not to pursue Julio Jones in the trade scenario where the Falcons ultimately traded Jones to the Titans. Many questioned Belichick for not pursuing Jones at the outset of free agency…Well, he wasn’t available then, but logic never matters on Twitter. 

Agholor had a very solid season for Vegas last year catching 48 passes for 896 yards with a stellar 18.7 yards per catch average and eight touchdowns. It was a career-high in yardage and average per catch for the veteran, who is hoping to continue his upward trajectory with New England. 

With the two tight ends and good possession receivers in Bourne and Meyers, the opportunities should be there for Agholor to stretch the field quite a bit in 2021. But at his first drop or running the wrong route, we’ll be sure to hear the ‘we coulda, shoulda got Jones” chants from the Twitterati.  

Matt LaCosse – The Patriots’ tight end opted out of 2020 but in 2019 with Tom Brady at the helm LaCosse had only 19 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. The team signed Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry for big money during free agency. The team used valuable draft capital on TE Devin Asiasi and TE/FB/HB Dalton Keene last spring. And after cutting FB Dan Vitale, the team signed TE Troy Fumagalli. 

One would have to assume that Smith, Henry, and Asiasi are locked for the roster, so that means that LaCosse, Keene, and Fumagalli are all competing for one roster spot. 

Patriots – Giants Joint Practices at Foxboro Close to Happening:

It now looks like the Patriots and Giants may conduct joint practices this summer before their preseason game at Giants’ Stadium. However, the practices will be held at Gillette and then the teams will zip down to New Jersey for the game. 

Historically, the Patriots and Giants have met in the final game of the preseason. Last season, they were scheduled to play New York in the preseason finale, but the game was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, who covers the G-Men on Twitter wrote: Joe Judge says it’s not completely finalized but the plan is to have joint practices at the Patriots and Browns.  “Big fan of them,” he said of joint practices. Sounds like this year it will be at New England but rotate every year. Sort of a home and home.

There is a big connection between Belichick and Judge as the latter served under Belichick in New England. However, that notwithstanding, as the NFL has slashed the preseason schedule from four to three games, this could open the door between the two teams to conduct joint practices annually. With both coaches being fans of them, and alternating between Gillette and the Meadowlands is something that could work towards helping each team in evaluating their rosters before the big cutdown after the final preseason game. 

And knowing Belichick’s respect for the Giants organization, it is a no-brainer. And a fan favorite…get ready to arrive early. With New York being so close, it may make sense to open the stadium for joint practices to handle the crowds that are sure to come. 

_______________

“Well, It’s hard to set up a teaching schedule for an individual player. You set up your teaching installation in a progressive way, a pyramiding way so that you lay a strong foundation and build up from there. You build-up for the entire team. You can’t just, let’s say gear it towards one guy or gear it towards another guy. Some players are going to be at the right pace, some players are going to be a little behind that pace, some players with experience may be a little ahead of that pace and then each position coach can kind of tailor that to the individual that he’s working with and where they are in that progression. So, guys that have less experience or are behind for whatever reason, then you try to position coach, and sometimes other veteran players will try to help that person with additional film time or classroom time or whatever it is, particularly if a player’s not on the field practicing. If he’s on the field practicing, then he’s able to use those practice reps to work on if it’s an individual fundamental skill or a team concept, the execution of a play, and that type of thing.

“So, there are a lot of different ways that a player learns and progresses and for some players that are advanced, a lot of times you take them and work on something that’s very specific to what they do that maybe the other players at that position don’t do and they try to work on things that would really help them and improve their play that we may not get to for a while, but if they can improve their individual skill, then when we come to those plays and those techniques, they’ll be more proficient at them. There’s general overall learning, progression, and structure. That gets modified for each individual by the position coach and ultimately you try to put the player in a position where he can go out and compete and practice and show us what he can do and then that can lead, if that’s done well and done at a high enough level, then that would give the player an opportunity to compete in preseason or game situations. Some players, for whatever reason, may not practice as well as they play. Some players may not play as well as they practice. Practice and games aren’t the same. I mean, there’s a degree of carryover, certainly, but some players play and react and they’re able to utilize the physical nature of football to change or improve their performance differently than what you see in a practice setting. So, it all adds up. It all helps the player’s progression. The evaluation ultimately comes in competitive situations and we’re not really in those yet.

“In fact, we’re quite a ways from them, so guys will go out and they’ll, like all of us would do the first time you do something, make a mistake, not do it correctly, learn from it, go out and maybe pretty good at it. So, it’s hard to evaluate people off of just one or two opportunities of doing something but over time that accumulates, and the more information you have, the more opportunities you have to evaluate how a player is doing and how he’s progressing, whether he’s leveling off, whether his improvement is spiking, or maybe gradually inclining, then the more time you have, the better chance you have of being right on those evaluations. And then, of course, there’s a lot of other factors that come into it as well that could be relevant. So, we’re not really in the evaluation process at this moment, we’re in the teaching and trying to get the team to a point where we can compete against each other in the preseason against our preseason opponents or joint practices or whatever the case might be and then those will be the real evaluation periods.

Bill Belichick’s when asked about how important is this time period of the OTAs and the mini-camp for rookies to get up to speed and how does he determine whether or not they are picking up what the team is looking for.

_______________

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 


Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandon Bolden Cam Newton Dont'a Hightower Hunter Henry Joint Practices Mac Jones Matt Lacosse N'Keal Harry Nelson Agholor New England Patriots New York Giants NFL Patriots with most to prove in 2021 Tre Nixon


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