6 observations from New England’s Friday scrimmage

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots held their annual Gillette Stadium training camp practice on Friday night. Bill Belichick treated season ticket holders and Foxborough residents to an intrasquad scrimmage, sorta.

Six observations from Patriots’ Friday night practice

#1 – It was a simulated game far from full speed

Entering Friday night, the Patriots had yet to have actual tackling in training camp through three padded practices. That didn’t change on Friday.

The Patriots penned the top-unit offense against the second-unit defense and vice versa. While the first units would ideally have the full advantage, the Patriots’ coaching staff made sure that wasn’t the case. Head coach Bill Belichick typically put the second units in more advantageous situations, likely to have the starters work through tougher situations. For instance, there were moments where Mac Jones would complete a pass that noticeably went for 10-plus yards but the coaching staff would have them work only a few yards further down the field on the next snap.

It also wasn’t a true game in the sense that it was ultra-competitive. Both sides were moving around three-quarters speed for much of the night (if now slower) because they couldn’t tackle. There were officials on hand though they didn’t make many calls on the night other than to indicate whether a catch was in-bounds or out-of-bounds.

#2 – Early look at the depth chart

Here’s who dressed up on the first unit at each position (note, some positions are carried additional players outside of the starters to rotate in):

Quarterback: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer

Running back: Damien Harris, Ty Montgomery

Wide receiver: Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker

Tight end: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith

Offensive line: Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Isaiah Wynn, James Ferentz

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Defensive line: Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Lawerence Guy

Linebacker: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche, Mack Wilson Sr., Raekwon McMillan

Cornerback: Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones

Safety: Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger

And here was the second unit:

Quarterback: Bailey Zappe

Running back: Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong, JJ Taylor

Wide receiver: Tyquan Thornton, Tre Nixon, Josh Hammond, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Kristian Wilkerson

Tight end: Matt Skol, Devin Asiasi

Patriots Offensive line: Bill Murray, Yasir Durant, Arlington Hambright, Drew Desjarlais, Yodney Cajuste, Kody Russey, Justin Herron, Will Sherman

Patriots Defensive line: Deatrich Wise, Carl Davis, Daniel Ekuale, Sam Roberts, LaBryan Ray, DaMarcus Mitchell

Linebacker: Cameron McGrone, Harvey Langi, Ronnie Perkins, Nate Wieland

Cornerback: Myles Bryant, Jack Jones, Shaun Wade, Justin Bethel, Joejuan Williams

Safety: Joshuah Bledsoe, Brad Hawkins, Jalen Elliott, Brenden Schooler

Matt Patricia (offense) and Steve Belichick (defense) were the play-callers for the top unit while Joe Judge (offense) and DeMarcus Covington (defense) held similar duties for the second unit.

#3 – There were a few absences of note

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson, linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Jabrill Peppers, who all likely would’ve been on the top unit, were either absent or didn’t practice on Friday. Tight end Dalton Keene was also out along with running back James White (physically unable to perform list), offensive lineman Chasen Hines (non-football injury list), and offensive lineman Andrew Stueber (non-football injury list). Linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who was injured at Thursday’s practice, was walking around with a sleeve on his leg, indicating his injury was not as serious as originally thought.

With those absences in mind, there were still a few takeaways while looking at who was with the first team on Friday. Running back Ty Montgomery got first-team reps and was the top kick returner. He was also heavily involved in the passing game on Friday, which seems to bode well for his roster chances. Third-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings got snaps in Judon’s spot. The 2020 third-round pick missed all of 2021 and likely needed a stand-out preseason in order to be a lock for the 53-man roster, and he’s been that so far.

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Cornerback Malcolm Butler got first-team reps. He’s been thought to be a potential cut candidate. However, rookie Jack Jones is likely more of a roster lock than him and was on the second unit. Ditto for Myles Bryant and Justin Behtel, but they’re more likely to be on the 53-man roster because of their special teams contributions. Finally, rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton was with the second unit, a sign that we should maybe pump the brakes on him having a big rookie season.

#4 – Notable plays

It was a bit harder to track every Patriots play that went down on Friday night considering it was a simulated game. But here were a few plays that stood out:

  • Mac Jones completed deep passes along the left sideline to Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, respectively, to start the night.
  • Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley drilled running back JJ Taylor in the backfield on a rush and a few plays later swatted down a Bailey Zappe pass near the endzone.
  • Jones’s lone deep pass to DeVante Parker was knocked down by one of the second-team safeties.
  • Nelson Agholor caught a nice pass from Jones in the back left corner of the end zone, but failed to get his feet down.
  • Meyers ran a reverse for a touchdown. Belichick decided to keep the offense at a similar spot in the red zone for the next play, which was an interception by safety Joshuah Bledsoe on a pass to tight end Jonnu Smith.
  • Zappe hit Thornton on a good pass down the field following a play action with some zip on the ball.
  • Corner Malcolm Butler broke up a deep pass from Zappe to receiver Tre Nixon.
  • Agholor couldn’t control a pass from Brian Hoyer, resulting in a pick for defensive back Jalen Elliott.
  • Damien Harris had a couple of runs that appeared to go for decent gains in a zone concept, a change from recent days.
  • Undrafted free-agent defensive tackle LaBryan Ray had a would-be sack on Jones.
  • Hoyer completed a 58-yard touchdown pass to Parker, connecting with him in stride on a deep pass. A few plays later, he hit Kendrick Bourne on a deep crossing route that resulted in a 39-yard touchdown.
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#5 – Jake Bailey’s boot

Punter Jake Bailey had two impressive kicks on Friday. His first came one of his kick-offs. Kicking off from his own 25-yard line as opposed to the 35-yard line, Bailey’s kick landed within the 5-yard line in opposing territory. Later, Bailey was forced to punt from the back of the endzone. His kick went to the opposing 35-yard line. Myles Bryant, who was the returner, lost track of the ball and muffed it.

#6 – Fight!

We had our first fight of Patriots camp on Friday. Linebacker Josh Uche, who was with the top unit, and offensive lineman Justin Herron got into it well after a play, throwing a lot of shoves at each other that drew flags from the officials and caused teammates to have to separate the two. Both players were ejected from practice.

Matthew Stafford, Rams

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