Mac Jones highlights 6 observations from New England’s 7th training camp practice

FOXBOROUGH — After two days of padded practices, the New England Patriots went back to shells on Wednesday, their seventh practice of training camp.

Here are six observations from Wednesday’s practice.

Patriots training camp observations

Drills moved a bit slower

New England took the pads off on Wednesday, and not only was practice less physical, it didn’t seem too competitive, either.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before players took the field that they were taking the pads off to”try to clean up a few things from the last couple of days that need to be worked out and get back at it.”

It certainly looked like the Patriots were going through some of the basics on Wednesday, moving a bit slower on some plays during team drills. The defense was the big winner of the first two days of padded practices, consistently winning the battle at the line-of-scrimmage on outside runs while the quarterbacks struggled to complete passes.

Veteran corner Terrance Mitchell also felt Wednesday’s practice wasn’t up to full speed.

“We were just working on things,” Mitchell said. “We were just working on stuff. We were just working.”

“We were just working. Technique. We were working on technique,” Mitchell added with a smile.

Mac Jones looked a bit more comfortable

The Patriots’ second-year quarterback didn’t have the best start to the first padded practices of the season, which followed a rough practice on Saturday, too. Jones was 5-for-9 during the 11-on-11s in Monday’s practice and had just a 50 percent completion percentage in the same drill on Tuesday.

Taking off the pads worked for Jones on Wednesday. He completed all six passes during the 7-on-7 drill and was 12-for-14 in 11-on-11s. Jones’s first incompletion was a floated pass to DeVante Parker along the left sideline, in which the veteran receiver broke his route too early that allowed Mitchell to get an interception. His second incompletion was a throwaway in the back of the end zone on a play that the receivers struggled to get separation in the red zone.

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It should be noted though that most of Jones’ passes were relatively short completions. During 7-on-7s, four of Jones’ completions were pretty intermediate passes, tossing completions to Jonnu Smith, Jakboi Meyers, and Ty Montomgery. He did connect with Parker on a comeback route 10-to-15 yards down the field on one pass and found Meyers 15-to-20 yards down the field on another.

In 11-on-11s, Jones mostly worked on play-action passes and quicker passes. He hit Nelson Agholor on a quick strike toward the beginning. He also threw completions to his tight ends and running backs for short gains for seven of his completions during the session.

Bailey Zappe was better, too

Zappe’s last padless practice saw him complete just 6-of-17 passes on Saturday, consistently missing receivers and the defense clearly getting the better of him. He was a bit better in the padded practices on Monday and Tuesday, completing roughly 50 percent of his passes during 11-on-11s throughout the two days.

The progression continued for the rookie quarterback on Wednesday. He completed 5-of-6 passes during 7-on-7s and was 13-of-16 during 11-on-11s.

Zappe worked on similar passes as Jones did. All of his completions were roughly five yards from the line of scrimmage during 7-0n-7s, connecting with the second-team receivers for all of them.

Zappe aired it out a bit more during 11-on-11s, though. After completing some play-actions, screens, and short rollout passes, the Patriots called a flea flicker for Zappe. The quarterback got some good air on the ball, but veteran safety Adrian Phillips made a good play to break the pass up, which was intended for rookie receiver Josh Hammond.

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When Zappe went back in for his next several reps on 11-on-11s, he completed passes to some first-team guys (Damien Harris and Kendrick Bourne) while throwing a pair of completions to Kristian Wilkerson and Tre Nixon. Zappe threw a good ball to an open Devin Asiasi about 25 yards down the field, but the tight end dropped it. Zappe ended the day on a good note, finding Wilkerson along the left side of the end zone for a touchdown.

A combination of run designs were involved in heavy day for running backs

A big takeaway from the first couple of padded practice was that the Patriots were running outside, zone runs. They didn’t have much success with it on Monday. Even though there was no tackling, the defense appeared to be in place for several stuffs on outside runs during Monday’s 11-on-11s.

With no pads on Wednesday, the Patriots mixed in some old with the new. They still ran outside zone runs, and while there was no tackling, there appeared to be a fair amount of traffic on some of those plays. But when they ran inside, they looked a bit more successful.

Damien Harris had some good burst running up the middle, beating would-be tacklers to certain spots down the field on a few inside runs.

The running backs were a bit busier than compared to last week’s padless practices. Harris had a couple of completions during the team drills. Ty Montgomery, who plays a receiver/running back hybrid, had four receptions out of the backfield during team drills.

Backup running back JJ Taylor also had a few receptions on short passes and screens. Sixth-round rookie Kevin Harris, who wasn’t too involved in the passing game at South Carolina, had a couple receptions, too.

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Hard to judge defense

Padless practices are always a bit tougher for the defence. While the defensive backs didn’t have mittens on to prevent grabbing like they did last week, they weren’t able to play as fast as they usually did on Wednesday.

There were a few standout plays by the defense on Wednesday, though. Mitchell’s interception was easy, but he had good coverage on Parker prior to the pass. We already mentioned Phillips’s strong pass-break up on Zappe’s throw on the flea flicker as well.

Rookie corner Marcus Jones made the right read on Zappe’s short pass to Tre Nixon on one of the plays during 11-on-11s, forcing the pass incomplete. Linebacker Mack Wilson, who was one of the standouts of the first two padded practices, had a would-be sack on Jones during the red zone portion of 11-on-11s on Wednesday.

Several players limited or absent

Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the last four practices and not throwing since the first one. However, he only did some side work.

Veteran safety Devin McCourty also did some side work on Wednesday. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson, defensive end Deatrich Wise, receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and corner Malcolm Butler were also limited. Safety Jabrill Peppers was absent after getting removed from the physically unable to perform list on Monday. Tight end Dalton Keene was also absent.

Wednesday could have been a scheduled rest day for some of the aforementioned players, especially the veterans (Hoyer, McCourty, and Butler) or those coming off recent injury (Peppers) as it was the middle practice in a stretch of five straight practice days.

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