With the regular season fast approaching the Patriots and Jaguars held two joint practices together prior to their preseason matchup on Thursday. I was able to attend the second day of practice.
Each side is nursing key injuries still. The Jaguars were without budding star cornerback Jalen Ramsey (PUP list) and key wide out Allen Hurns who left the first joint practice with a knee injury and did not return. The Patriots meanwhile were still missing Dont’a Hightower, who remains on the PUP list, but also were without Eric Rowe, Matt Slater, Shea McClellin and a few others.
Injuries aside their was some good competition on the field and as always a few players and moments stood out:
- In the health department Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell both participated in positional drills and 1 on 1s. Still no 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 action for them, but again this is by design and not a cause for concern. Duron Harmon was moving fine and a full participant after he tweaked his knee last week during practice.
- Allen Robinson gave the Patriots defensive backs fits in 1 on 1 drills. Twice Robinson burned Malcolm Butler for scores. He was not as impactful in 7 on 7 or 11 on 11, although that may have been more of a function of his erratic quarterback play than his own work, still he produced one highlight when he hauled in a long pass while falling down and being held by Stephon Gilmore. Robinson, with steady QB play, is an obvious number 1 option and one of the better wide outs in the NFL today.
- In the full scrimmage (non-contact) the Patriots rolled out a few interesting defensive looks with their safties. Their two safety packages were always with Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon. Pat Chung, who normally slides in next to McCourty, was playing in more of a hybrid linebacker type spot. He did a number of roles: man coverage against the TE, man coverage on the slot receiver, and rushing the quarterback. Chung’s versatility has served him well throughout his NFL career and no one knows how to better use that than Coach Belichick.
- David Harris and Kyle Van Noy were given starters reps at middle linebacker in the scrimmage. Elandon Roberts handled goal line duties and during a contact session put a big hit on Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. When McClellin and Hightower return the reps at middle linebacker will undoubtedly shift. Kyle Van Noy may transition to outside linebacker and replace Rob Ninkovich where he can rush the QB, which is what he does best. McClellin and Harris will likely platoon as the second MLB as neither really justifies a full games worth of playing time at this point.
- Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore had back to back pass break ups on the third and fourth plays of the scrimmage. Both had strong showings throughout the entire scrimmage, Butler had a near pick in the back of the end zone. On the final play, Jonathan Jones got beat long which was the only real blunder for the first unit defense on the day.
- The defensive line featured regulars Trey Flowers and Malcolm Brown on the left side, while the right side was manned by rookies Harvey Langi and Deatrich Wise. I mentioned Langi emerging last week and it appeared he continues to rise in the eyes of the coaching staff. He offers value being able to play both middle and outside linebacker. He is another player who could soften the blow of Nink retiring. The line got solid pressure and made Bortles uncomfortable on multiple occasions.
- The second team defense did a lap for struggling with their substitutions pattern. They had 12 men on the field at one point which was what pushed the coaching staff to their breaking point.
- The offense continues to be a well oiled machine. Gronk and Cooks both made big plays in the scrimmage. Brandon Bolden saw an unusual amount of carries, but that could have been a function of Gillislee being limited and not scrimmaging on the day.
- Dwayne Allen dropped a ball on the first play of the scrimmage with no defense around him. He was able to bounce back later with a nice back shoulder catch for a touchdown from Brady. Rex Burkhead also found the end zone on a goal line carry.
- At the end of practice the third teams for both sides faced off and the Patriots lost the drill, so the team dropped down for their pushups. This is only notable because a certain Patriot coach joined in: Belichick. Everyone in attendance, players and fans, seemed to enjoy that from Belichick.
The “real” game between the two teams is Thursday night at 7:30 at Gillette Stadium. Both sides will prioritize health as the starters should not see much, if any action in Week 1 of the preseason.