Sometimes a quarterback makes a play that the defense simply cannot defend. For the first two days of the New England Patriots minicamp, quarterback Mac Jones has hammered the defense with that kind of play.
Specifically, Jones and receiver Tre Nixon have been unbeatable on a deep post.
On three separate occasions, Jones had dropped the ball into a bucket to Nixon for a 65 or 70-yard pickup. Nixon has come from the slot across the field for a deep post route – so deep he has ended up on the left side of the field. That’s where Jones has found him for three massive completions over the first two days of minicamp. Nixon beat cornerbacks Jonathan Jones then Shaun Wade and then Jones again. On Day 1, Jonathan Jones and Nixon went to the ground but Nixon nabbed it. On day 2, Jones hit Nixon perfectly in-stride early in practice then found Nixon for a one-handed grab over Jon Jones hanging like a cape in coverage.
It has been that kind of minicamp for the young quarterback. Mac Jones looks mighty comfortable in this offense. And, somewhat surprising, he has looked mighty comfortable throwing to slot receiver Nixon, a seventh-round draft choice in 2021. There were exceptions, including a misfire and ensuing interception to cornerback Malcolm Butler. All in all, it was a good day.
Here are more observations.
The top takeaway: A day full of highs and lows for cornerback Jack Jones
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Receiver Nelson Agholor beat cornerback Jack Jones down the sideline for one of the many explosive plays of the day. Mac Jones dropped in a dime.
Jones made an attempt to rectify the tough rep. On a play with the first-team defense, the rookie fourth-round cornerback intercepted rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.
The ups and downs didn’t end there.
Jones muffed a punt and a few moments later, logged a pass breakup on Mac Jones’ pass for Nelson Agholor.
Oh yes, there’s more.
Agholor later broke Jones’ ankles in space on a shifty change of direction after a catch. That was an example of Agholor’s veteran savvy.
This is why cornerbacks have to have short memories. It is a good sign, however, that a rookie cornerback-and a fourth-rounder no less-is already getting into sparring matches with a guy like Agholor.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
K Nick Folk
K Quinn Nordin
OL Andrew Stueber
OL Chasen Hines
Back in action
WR Kendrick Bourne returned to action on Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s session.
WR Jakobi Meyers participated in the first 20 minutes of practice but left to work on conditioning soon after. He and TE Dalton Keene head up the hill. THE HUNTER HENRY lasted a little bit longer, but he, too, was limited. CB Malcolm Butler followed.
CB Jack Jones left a punt return drill with an injury. He returned soon after.
One more thing
Singer Jon Bon Jovi watched practice on the sideline. The Patriots even played “Living on a prayer,” likely as a nod to his presence.
The little details
The weather: It was a bit toastier, with the temperatures hitting 80 degrees. Though it rained in the morning, the field was dry by the time practice kicked off at about 12:00.
The pad level: Minicamp is no pads and no contact.
The energy: With all the big plays on offense, it was an exciting day. The offense’s biggest hype man, Damien Harris, was by far the loudest player.
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
QB Mac Jones
I try not to make a big deal of quarterback stats and performances in minicamp where the passer doesn’t even have to throw over his own offensive line-let alone a pass-rush. But Jones’ command of a “streamlined” offense with new terminology has been extremely impressive. Add in his laser-point accuracy. THis absolutely looks like a quarterback on the rise. It was another impressive session.
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Because he’s not on the field, Meyers’ is leaving himself vulnerable to lose some snaps – and contract extension leverage – to the other receivers on the field. Nixon and Montgomery are thriving in the slot. Don’t get me wrong. Meyers is still the team’s best slot receiver. It’s just that, if Nixon and Montgomery continue to play well, it wouldn’t be a positive development for Meyers.
Everything else that’s important
Butler logged the first interception of training camp on Mac Jones. It came on a ball that Bourne tipped into the air. Jones threw the ball high and off-target.
Belichick spent over an hour chatting with Utah State defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda. The majority of practice functioned without the Patriots coach ‘oversight. Belichick was wrapped in conversion with Banda.
Mac Jones is back to running routes for his wideouts to show them what he and/or Joe Judge want. After receiver Tyquan Thornton struggled to execute a route-running drill properly, Judge reset the drill to make sure the receivers were executing properly. Jones then pulled Thornton aside to show him how to run the route.
Isaiah Wynn was, yet again, running at right tackle while Trent Brown ran at right tackle.
After one of many deep balls from Mac Jones to Nixon, Brian Hoyer found Thornton open on the right sideline for a 40-yard pickup. Thornton went to the ground while catching the ball.
Inside linebackers Ja’Whaun Bently, Raekwon McMillan, Jahlani Tavai and Cameron McGrone will compete for snaps. Outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins will compete for snaps. Bentley, Uche and Wilson were getting snaps both roles.
In between coaching the defense against the scout-team offense, Steve Belichick huddled up with Wilson to do a little extra coaching. Wilson joined the team this offseason in a 1-for-1 trade for now-Browns outside linebacker Chase Winvovich. Wilson seems to be a potentially important piece for the defense. Steve Belichick, technically the outside linebackers coach, also spent time chatting with the safeties. He’s all over the place, as is to be expected for the up-and-coming young coach.
Don’t forget about defensive end Henry Anderson. The Patriots clearly haven’t. He’s still in the mix to earn snaps along the defensive line, even if he had an unceremonious 2021 with the team.
The Patriots experimented with Malcolm Perry, Tre Nixon, Jack Jones and Kendrick Bourne at punt returner.
Montgomery and Running back Pierre Strong were back returning kicks. Strong has spent most of these practices (and OTAs) with the scout-team offense. If he wants to see the field, Strong can do so in this role.
Fellow rookie running back Kevin Harris was a member of the kickoff return team. He failed to communicate a “go” call for a Montgomery return and that drew the ire of the only coordinator on the field, Cam Achord, the skipper of the special teams.
It’s always fun to see the natural huddles that develop during special teams periods. Bentley, Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips chatted on the sideline during a kicking drill. That reminded me of something Perkins said of Bentley on Tuesday: “That’s one of our leaders – one of our vocal guys. He knows the defense like the back of his hand. I just feel like in our room that’s one of the guys we definitely can count on to lead us the right way. ”