Good morning, and here are our Sunday Patriots news 8-6 and notes for this week.
The first week+ of training camp is in the books, and the competition is heating up. It is good to see both the offense and defense going back and forth on the field, that is the way it should be, but a year ago, there were few days when the offense had much to cheer about.
The younger players, especially the 2023 draft class, are flashing positively, which is a very good sign. However, it is still early in the process, so as Bill likes to say, “they have to keep stringing good days together,” and some players aren’t progressing as expected, which will be topics to keep an eye on.
The Patriots conducted their in-stadium practice on Friday night for season ticket holders, which is always a big event in training camp.
We’ll delve into those and other topics down below.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
New Stadium Scoreboard: The Patriots unleashed their new scoreboard on Friday, a couple of hours before the in-stadium practice, and it is BIG. The scoreboard measures 370 feet long by 60 feet high and is the largest outdoor video board at a sports stadium in the United States.
It is part of the renovation project by the Patriots, as they have closed in the open end of the stadium. The acoustics, as well as the wind in the kicking game, will definitely change once the games begin. The new lighthouse will rise 220 feet from the ground and have observation decks that will have views of Boston and Providence, RI skylines.
There will be a pair of new hospitality suites added as well. All of the construction is expected to be completed by the team’s home opener. The team posted a video down at the field level, which gives a good idea of the scope involved.
Christian Gonzalez: The team’s first-round draft pick has been very impressive on the field this week. He had quite a few good battles with DeVante Parker, going back and forth. Parker came away impressed with the rookie saying, “He’s a very patient DB; I like his skill set.” But it hasn’t been all perfect. He’s lost some of those battles as well, which is a good learning curve for the rookie.
On Thursday, the play of the day was a touchdown by Kendrick Bourne on a dime from Mac Jones just over the outstretched hands of Gonzalez. Jones put it where only Bourne could grab it. But the rookie doesn’t dwell on those; he refocuses and goes right back at it.
Gonzalez flashed some good physicality when he read a pass behind the line of scrimmage and flew up, tackling Raleigh Webb for a loss. Physicality was a weakness that scouts believed dropped Gonzalez down to #17 in the draft. Right in the Patriots’ lap. We’ll discuss more of the rookie class below.
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 Havens and I spoke about the practice sessions now that the pads had come on and gave our take on how things are progressing. Russ Goldman has been recording some of his own takes in short 15-20 podcasts solo on camp thus far.
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 Judon’s Raise —
The Patriots gave Matthew Judon a healthy raise, something he felt he deserved, which was evidenced by the team reworking his contract. It was not an extension; no years were added. But he received a nice boost in pay. Adam Schefter of ESPN was the first to report that Judon will go from his original $2 million guaranteed for 2023 to $14 million fully guaranteed in 2023. The adjustment improved the original 2021 deal and will allow Judon to make up to $18 million this year.
Judon signed a four-year, $56 million contract with the Patriots in the 2021 offseason and has produced 28 sacks, third most in the NFL during the past two years, tied with T.J. Watt, including a career-high 15.5 in 2022.
Some believe that Judon was “holding in” by showing up for practice, warming up, and then going to the lower fields for conditioning work. I still believe that what was transpiring may have been just that. Conditioning work to better prepare him for the last quarter of the season, where the past two seasons he’s worn down.
But it should be said that Schefter believes that he was, indeed, “holding in.” On his Twitter account, he posted, “Through the early part of training camp, Matthew Judon has warmed up with his teammates before doing conditioning drills on a side field during practice. Now Judon can rejoin his teammates for full practice sessions.”
Camp Thoughts So Far —
The offense is seemingly finding its groove under Bill O’Brien. Mac Jones seems to have a grasp on what they’re trying to accomplish, and he and JuJu Smith-Schuster have begun to find some chemistry on the field. That’s encouraging, especially when, two days in a row, they’re hooking up for red zone TDs. Baby steps, yes, but positive ones, and Mac Jones is finding his confidence under O’Brien.
A day can’t go by without Demario Douglas making a standout play, whether it was faking CB Quandre Mosley out of his shoes during a tackling drill or making a lightning cut and leaving Marcus Jones far behind for a red-zone TD. The small rookie has been consistently making plays and has to be the biggest pleasant surprise of camp.
Rookie WR Keyshon Boutte got off to a quiet start in training camp but has been ramping it up the past few days. It seems the light is coming on for the rookie, who was given some lofty praise by offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.
After the Friday practice, O’Brien said, “Kayshon is definitely a guy that’s really worked hard to get better every day, and that’s good to see.”
“When you have that attitude (improving every day), if you can keep that consistent attitude, if you’re out there on the field and you’re taking care of your body, and you’re able to be out there, you’re going to get better with that attitude,” O’Brien said. “And I think you’re seeing that on a day-to-day basis.”
However, 2nd year WR Tyquan Thornton has not had a good camp up to this point, and frankly, it is getting a bit worrying. His route-running still needs improvement, and he needs to be able to separate on the short, intermediate routes. I really thought he’d be a much bigger part of the offense by now. But there is still plenty of time for him to right the ship. Kendrick Bourne is starting to heat up, which is a good sign as well.
Hunter Henry is off to an excellent start in camp this season. He and Mac Jones are once again locked into each other. Patriots.com’s Evan Lazar made the great observation that the chemistry between the two is so good, that “the ball leaves Jones’s hands earlier throwing to Henry than any other receiver by a mile. The anticipation with these two is off the charts.”
Mike Gesicki is slowly getting down some chemistry with Jones as well. We all have to remember that Henry is in his third year playing with Jones for the Patriots, and Gesicki is just starting out. I thought Anthony Firkser had the inside track as the #3 tight end, but Matt Sokol just may have something to say about that. Sokol has had a solid camp and is a good blocker, while Firkser has the edge in the receiving department. That competition is far from settled. One of many to keep an eye on.
However, the biggest concern remains the offensive line. Injuries are prevalent across the board, with the exception of David Andrews. Trent Brown, Cole Strange, and Michael Onwenu are not practicing. Ditto for Calvin Anderson. Riley Reiff and Connor McDermott have been fighting for reps at right tackle, but neither has clearly stepped up. But McDermott is a very good run blocker.
Rookies Keion White and Marte Mapu have been trending up as well. White wasn’t able to showcase much until the pads came on, and he’s been showing that coveted “speed to power” skill set that players on the edge must have.
The team is still working on using several free safeties. It looks like, at least for now, it may be a matchup strategy, depending on the opponent. No one said replacing Devin McCourty was going to be easy. Dugger, Peppers, Phillips, and Mills have all logged reps there as the coaches look for the best combination.
I believe Christian Gonzalez is the real deal, and he’s going about his business like a seasoned professional. He and DeVante Parker have had some great reps, but overall, he’s done a great job against Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Jonathan Jones has likewise had a very good camp thus far.
The best CB grouping, IMHO, is Gonzalez and Jack Jones, with Jonathan Jones in the slot. But they’ve been running with Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones at the boundary corners with Marcus Jones in the slot. Marcus has had a good camp and for now, is edging out Myles Bryant for the slot corner spot.
Jack Jones’ legal issues remain a sticky point, but so far, the league has been mum on any kind of punishment. But his leaving the field last week after getting heated when he and Bourne fought for a reception was not a good look for the young, talented CB. Isaiah Bolden has had some good reps lately and even had a few reps with the top unit. He’s got the size (6’2, 205), speed, and athleticism (he was a kick returner in college) to be a very good player in the league. He probably won’t get many reps this season, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Hey, we are not done with the rookies yet. Kicker Chad Ryland and Punter Bryce Barringer have had good starts to training camp. In fact, I’d put both of them in front of veterans Nick Folk and Corliss Waitman. Ryland has much more range than Folk but doesn’t yet have the consistency of the experienced veteran. Barringer has put a few punts in the flight path over Logan.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss had one of his punts with a hang time of 5:03. It has been a rare thing to see so many rookies having such big impacts in training camp. Yes, there is a long way to go (Let’s not put them in Canton just yet – Bill Parcells), but it is an encouraging sign.
Overall, training camp so far in 2023 has the needle trending upward. Next Thursday night, we will get to see the players in action for the first time against the Houston Texans in their first preseason game.
“Matt’s a hard worker. Very diligent, kind of a first in, last out type of guy, very smart, studies well, has good size, has good skill. Obviously, got a good background here, but he’s shown up positively, both in the passing game and in the running game a little bit last year. We were just getting started here yesterday, but I think that’ll be something that he will be competitive in. It’s good to have him. He gives us another quality depth player in that position. He’s good to work with, and he’s ahead of where he was last year, too, by a lot, so that’s another big positive for him, second year in the program.”
Bill Belichick on how Matt Sokol has been working out at the tight end position.
“All these second-year guys are well ahead of where they were last year in terms of understanding what we’re doing, understanding what goes on with the other side of the ball, being in a training routine, understanding the level of competition. Again, most of the players that come from college are just obviously better than the guys they played against. I mean, they are just better than them.
“Here, it’s obviously a much more level playing field, and the players they are playing against are way more experienced than the rookies are. So, those guys have only been out here a handful of practices; those guys have played multiple years and know a lot more about what they’re doing than rookies do. It’s a big jump for every rookie, just the level of competition that they’re facing. Look, I mean, Kevin saw good competition in the SEC. I’m not saying that, but it’s still a lot better up here. He’s doing way better than he was last year. He’s way ahead of things; he’s in good shape. He’s had a good offseason, so he’s ready to go. He’s a guy that plays well with his pads on. We’ll see how that goes as he gets those opportunities.”
Bill Belichick on 2nd year running back Kevin Harris, and how far ahead he is right now as opposed to a year ago as a rookie.
“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Devin McCourty Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots