Joint practices are finally here for the Patriots, and they have been anything but routine. Since they started two days ago, the teams have been in each other faces. This is typically a natural thing. However, there were full group altercations on consecutive days.
So what caused these issues? The best that I can recount from people on site the first day is that; Wilkerson caught a ball near the Panthers’ sideline and lingered too long, causing a scuffle. That spilled out into the field and involved a baseball-style bench clearing issue.
On the second day, Wilkerson was hit late on a special team play by Kenny Robinson. Wilkerson was hurt with an apparent head injury, and Robinson flexed over his body, causing multiple Patriots to rush over to Robinson, confronting him. Another team-on-team encounter. Wilkerson was brought to the hospital for evaluation.
Patriots Offense Improving?
Moving on from the WWE style of practices, we can dive into the play of the Patriots during these sessions. Mac Jones looked on point on the first day connecting with Parker for a couple of deep 50/50 balls, hooked up with Agholor on a pretty crossing touchdown, and found Meyers as a safety valve when the pressure got to him. Day two started well but got harder down the stretch. The Panthers added pressure caused Mac to go 11/22 and be “sacked” five times.
The Offensive line still needs to understand their pass-blocking protections; this new scheme differs from what they have focused on in the past. However, the front four of the Panthers have two top 15 selections, a top 50 pick, and a serviceable veteran, which can shed light on why there was so much pressure. In addition, they have made improvements in the run-blocking game, and the wide zone stretches were picking up decent yardage and leading to solid play-action chunk plays. Running on early downs is a must for this team, even if they want to pass more.
DeVante Parker has looked as advertised; when the ball is near his radius, he finds a way to go up and come down with the ball or makes his defender get physical and draws penalties. However, Parker feels great himself and expresses his feelings with this quote.
“If the ball’s in the air, it’s mine,” Parker said. “It’s more like a 80-20 (ball than 50-50).”DeVante Parker (MassLive.com)
Everyone keeps saying the Patriots don’t have a number one receiver. This certainly sounds like a guy with the mindset for it. If he can stay healthy, I see no reason why he can have a similar season to 2019 with more of a touchdown upside.
Nelson Agholor has been busting his but all camp to try and prove to Patriots fans that he is worth the money he is owed this year. On day one, he had that nice crossing TD. According to Zo & Bertrand, Nelson was all over the field on day two, catching in traffic, getting into the endzone, and going up and bringing balls back to him. Meyers has been ole reliable for Jones all off-season. This leaves the question, how has Kendrick Bourne been playing during these joint practices?
Bourne hasn’t been as focused during the past two sessions as we would like him to be. He was seen being deemed out by Belichick for not following what a referee had instructed him. Also, the praise about the other wideout in a crowded room could cause concern for Bourne. With that said, it will take a lot more than a bad string of joint practices for him to be in danger.
How Did The Patriots’ Defense Play
So far through two days, the Patriots’ front seven has been lights out. The pressure got to Mayfield multiple times, the running game was getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, and the receivers weren’t running wild. This is the first team on first team action, so to hear this type of control is a pleasure. Deatrich Wise (who was kicked out of Wednesday’s practice for the altercation) had this to say about the defensive performance.
“We were dominating the whole time,” Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise told reporters after practice. “They completed a few passes on us. But we were in Baker’s [Mayfield] face all day.”Deatrich Wise (Patriots.com)
This shows that the defense has strength; it shifted from the back end to the front seven. Belichick has realized they need to focus on bringing the quarterback down rather than playing great coverage, and the mobile ability has caused this change in philosophy. The CB room isn’t as star-studded, but it also isn’t top-heavy everyone in there should be able to hold their own as the front does their job to disrupt the opposing team.
Matt Judon and Devon Godchaux have made their presence known during these joint practices. Judon has been in Mayfield and Darnold’s face no matter who was trying to block him. Godchaux has been getting into the backfield, stuffing the run, and showing more of what he did last season’s end.
This team is also integrating multiple young players who have gained deeper experience on the roster. This is the year they are needed, and this year they finally show that they are worth a spot on this roster—players like Joshuah Bledsoe, Anfernee Jennings, and Ronnie Perkins. The team has whole that all these players can fill, getting this roster down to the final 53 is going to be a challenge
Many fans think the Patriots don’t have a number one WR or a solid defense to fall back on. However, I believe that both units will surprise the heck out of people. I heard better fan sentiments about the team in 2020 than the roster we have now. I made a friendly wager with a commenter on Facebook about the team going over its eight & a half win total, and I reason that Belichick won seven games that season with a practice squad roster, this iteration of the Patriots is much better.
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