Good morning, and here are our Sunday Patriots news 7-30 and notes for this week. The good news is that football is back!
The first three days of training camp are in the books. And as head coach Bill Belichick said earlier in the week, it has been a continuation of OTAs as the team has not yet practiced in pads due to NFL rules. That should change shortly, perhaps as early as today’s practice session.
The team has practiced extensively in the red zone during the first three days of camp, an area where the team was the worst in the NFL a year ago.
We’ll delve into those and other topics down below.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
Ezekiel Elliot: The former Cowboys star visited the Patriots on Saturday. While he’s no longer the back he was in his prime, he is still productive, scoring 12 TDs in 2022. We’ll keep an eye on that. But would he accept a rotation with Rhamondre Stevenson? That’s the big question. It would prolong his career but ultimately is a question only he can answer at this stage of his career.
Matthew Judon: The star edge rusher had his snaps limited the first two days but was ramped up a bit more on Friday. He also commented on his wearing of a hoodie during the practice session, despite the temps in the 90s on Friday. He credited Terrell Suggs, his former teammate in Baltimore, for this idea.
“I give a lot of my game to him because I stole from him. So, this is one thing I stole from him. One year, he came in, and he was a little overweight. He practiced his butt off and wore a long sleeve every day. By the end of camp, he had a six-pack, and he was ready, and he went out there and got like 12.5 sacks in like his 13th year.
“And so I was like, ‘Man if he can do just that little thing and just forget about the elements, forget about how hot he is, forget about if he’s cold, forget about the circumstances that are going around and just focus on football, that’s what I want to steal from him.’ And that’s one thing I did.”
Mike Reiss: The team’s most prominent beat writer posted a neat picture of a post-practice interview with Matthew Judon and his son, in attendance, asking him a question from the media throng. Reiss tagged the photo as “one way to get Dad’s attention.”
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t listened to our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Patriots 4th & 2 has expanded.
Derek and I discussed the first couple of days of training camp and what we were looking for as training camp continues.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that especially Francis isn’t is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
Thoughts On the First Three Days of Training Camp —
The Patriots wrapped up the first three days of camp on Friday and were given Saturday off before once again hitting the practice field later today. As we mentioned above, the majority of the practices have been in the red zone.
In the early part of training camp, the defenses always have the advantage. Especially when the team isn’t practicing in pads. The threat of the running game is non-existent. Plus, during the early part of the installation of offensive packages, there is none of the usual “bells and whistles” the offense will run, just the basic concepts and formations.
But while the defense has looked stout with some excellent play, especially in the secondary, I wouldn’t get too excited either way. However, there are plenty of things to be positive about on both sides of the ball.
“Not Beating Ourselves”: After practice this week, new tight end Mike Gesicki talked about the Bill O’Brien effect and having a more disciplined approach heading into this season. And while that sounds overly simple, a year ago, that was a major problem.
Time and again last season, the Patriots saw drives killed by pre-snap penalties and mental mistakes. They simply weren’t good enough to constantly have to overcome mental errors, turnovers, etc. It showed on their third down and red zone conversion rates.
Gesicki said, “Definitely been disciplined. Hasn’t been a lot of guys jumping offsides; hasn’t been a lot of guys lining up in the wrong spots or making mental errors,” he said. “And I think that’s the biggest part: Coach Belichick says before you win, you must keep from losing. That’s something we have to take day in and day out because a lot of teams in the league will beat themselves.
“If we’re going to be one of the teams that are going to be disciplined and not be one of the teams that are going to beat themselves, it will give us a much higher chance of winning,” Gesicki added. “I think that’s what this place has prided itself on for a long, long time: being disciplined, being in the right spots, being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be, and not beating yourself.”
Gesicki, Bourne Thornton Lack of Production: Thus far in camp, Gesicki, Kendrick Bourne, and Tyquan Thornton have been MIA in terms of production. While that is NEVER a good sign for the WRs, that lack of production does have a mitigating factor.
As we said at the outset, the offense is running only basic concepts and routes right now, with the installation of the Bill O’Brien playbook, with little to no wrinkles thrown in. Add in the fact that there is no running game due to a lack of pads thus far and a very good defense opposite, and sure, things are going to swing the pendulum toward the defense.
In regards to Bourne and Thornton, they are receivers geared to operating in the open field and aren’t true red zone receivers. They’re both speedy guys who are at their best catching the ball in space and getting yards after the catch (YAC). Now if their lack of production continues after O’Brien installs some play-action (thankfully) and under-center RPO concepts, which will help the WRs get open, then it will be very concerning. Gesicki had a solid spring, and his lack of production thus far will demand a close watch in the days ahead.
Douglas Bears Watching: I have beaten the drum for a smaller, shifty slot receiver in the mode of Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, and Julien Edelman since Edelman retired. The Patriot offense under O’Brien functioned that way in the past. While JuJu Smith-Schuster will probably play the majority of his reps in the slot, don’t forget the diminutive Demario Douglas, the rookie slot/returner from Liberty.
He is quick, agile and has the ability to work underneath and make yards after the catch. After a solid spring, he has continued to flash a little bit thus far. He may not be ready for a lot of work this season, but I’m excited to see what he can do and how much he can progress in the coming weeks.
Judon Has Workload Limited: Nothing to worry about; despite some chatter to the contrary, Judon isn’t “holding in” for a contract extension. The first two days of camp had Judon moving to the lower practice fields for conditioning work. With him wearing down at the end of each of the past two seasons, the team is working on his conditioning and tempering his workload early in camp.
But Phil Perry has reported that Judon is looking for a contract extension, and why not? In his two seasons in Foxboro, Judon has generated 28 sacks, tied for third-most in the league with T.J. Watt. Our good friend Miguel Benzan aka @patscap made a great point on Saturday with the argument that the Patriots re-did Judon’s contract when they needed it, and it may be the time to re-do it, this time in his favor.
Judon retains his status as the most quotable Patriot. When asked about his contract situation, he quipped, “I’m definitely not going to talk about contracts with y’all. Y’all some snitches.”
He and Devin McCourty then engaged in some back-and-forth playful banter where McCourty tweeted, “You can talk to me,” McCourty tweeted. “You the number one snitch,” Judon said. “Shh, I ain’t gonna tell nobody,” McCourty replied. That prompted former Patriot great Dont’a Hightower to jump in and tweet to McCourty, “You are the Feds now!”
Judon also responded to another shot at Bill Belichick by Assante Samuel, the former disgruntled CB. After Perry’s report surfaced, Samuel tweeted, “Let’s see how much he likes Belichick now,” Samuel said, trying to start a Twitter (X-sigh) conversation that would further slam Belichick. Judon, however, wasn’t having any of that.
“(Belichick) will forever be my guy,” Judon tweeted in a quoted response. “(I) don’t let that money affect my emotions, Asante.” Mic drop.
Montgomery Hurt…Again: When it comes to Ty Montgomery, the question is never about ability but availability. He had a great TC a year ago but was injured in the Week 1 game in Miami and lost for the season. He was off to another good start this spring and summer but was injured on Thursday and was absent on Friday. He is currently listed as day-to-day.
If he’s out for any length of time, I think it drives home the point that the Patriots need to give those third down, change-of-pace runs, and receiving snaps to 2nd year RB Pierre Strong. After a redshirt-type year as a rookie, Strong could have a noticeable jump in snaps and production in 2023. He is extremely fast and had 10 TDs of 50 yards or more in college.
In the meantime, if Montgomery is sidelined for just a couple of days, Strong will benefit from getting more work with the starting offense. Belichick was quoted as saying that both Strong and 2nd-year RB Kevin Harris were both far ahead of where they were a year ago.
Gonzalez Off to a Very Good Start: Patriots 1st round draft pick Christian Gonzalez has looked very much the part thus far this year. His speed, size, and athleticism have been evident in the sessions thus far. During our podcast this week, Derek Havens commented that when Gonzalez flips his hips, “he’s smooth as butter.”
Has he been akin to “Revis Island” thus far? Absolutely not. But part of being a rookie is you will get beat, then learn from it and move on. And his quiet demeanor and confidence have been on full display. He even got praise from Belichick.
“[Gonzalez] has been great to work with, very diligent, he has done everything we’ve asked him to do, has improved every day,” Belichick said before practice. “He’s still got a long way to go like every rookie, but he’s been great to work with. The rookie class, in general, has been good. They’re really very attentive, good work ethic, they have been a pleasure to work with.”
“It’s been fun really being able to come in, learn and compete. Learn from all the guys in my position room and bond with them. Learn how they play, try to catch up, and just be out here to compete,” Gonzalez said.
“It’s something I’ve had. But it’s always good to just come out and compete against the best. It doesn’t get better than that. Just playing the position, gotta have confidence being out there,” Gonzalez added.
Secondary Play Overall Has Been Outstanding: The first three days of camp have been filled with some really nice play by the secondary. Thus far, the top CB trio has consisted of Gonzalez and Jon Jones at the boundary corners, with 2nd year Marcus Jones manning the slot. Currently, Jack Jones is running the second group of corners. That may very well change in the future, as we’re only in Week 1 of camp.
Patriots.com outstanding beat writer Evan Lazar wrote on Friday that the secondary made eight pass breakups. That is a great start for the secondary. And the safety position, despite missing Devin McCourty, has been showcasing its depth.
The starting trio (for now) seems to be Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, and Adrian Phillips, with Joshuah Bledsoe and Jalen Mills also getting looks with the top unit. That seems to fit in well with what we learned this spring, and the defense will offer a lot of different looks, depending on the opponent. (See Matt Judon’s ‘unicorns’ statement)
While there still remain questions at tackle, we won’t really get a true feel for that as well as the run defense, until the pads come on.
The offense will obviously have to play better, but it is about where we thought it would be at this early stage. As Belichick is so fond of saying, “We have a long way to go.” But we’re excited to see how things come together for the team in 2023.
“Yeah, again, we are working a lot of different people in different rotations, different sides, different combinations, so we’ll see how all that plays out. Nobody has really done enough of anything yet. We’ll have to reestablish everything this year.
“Yeah, anytime you work daily with a person, you get to see a lot of things that you don’t see in a short interview or even a one-day visit. Their daily preparation, attitude, responsiveness, ability to retain, ask questions, move ahead, all those things. He’s been great to work with, very diligent, he has done everything we’ve asked him to do, has improved every day. He’s still got a long way to go like every rookie does, but he’s been great to work with. The rookie class in general has been good. They’re really very attentive, good work ethic, they have been a pleasure to work with.
“He (Cole Strange) had a great offseason, had an opportunity to train this offseason. He really took advantage of that physically. Obviously, mentally he is light years ahead of where he was, like all rookies are. Knowing what they expect, knowing the offense, knowing defenses and can anticipate things better. His communication is way better on the offensive line, experience. Yeah, he had a really good offseason, and it has been evident all through the spring, even a few days out here.”
Bill Belichick on getting to know and work with rookie Christian Gonzalez and what he’s seen from 2nd year LG Cole Strange thus far in training camp.
“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick
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Posted Under: Patriots 2023 Training Camp
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Christian Gonzalez Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower Hunter Henry Jon Jones Kendrick Bourne Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Marcus Jones Matthew Judon Mike Gesicki New England Patriots Patriots edge rushers