The New England Patriots took the field for a very rainy and, at times, sloppy practice on Monday during mandatory minicamp. But as important as the work was on the field, one player’s absence may have been the biggest storyline.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, skipped the first day of minicamp, a decision that is likely to result in a fine. Gilmore is likely discontent with his contract, which will pay him just $7.5 million in 2021, tied for the 25th-most among cornerbacks. The problem? Gilmore’s cap hit will be $16.3 million this season, which is the most among cornerbacks. That’s probably why the Patriots and Gilmore are having trouble finding a middle ground. That will be worth monitoring as he is their most important defensive player.
But let’s move onto practice, shall we? And, of course, let’s talk a lot about the quarterbacks, as this competition gets more interesting by the day.
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CB Stephon Gilmore OLB Chase Winovich DT Byron Cowart OLB/TE Rashod Berry LB Terez Hall
LB Anfernee Jennings LB Cameron McGrone
Tight end Jonnu Smith got in his first session with the team but suffered an apparent left hamstring injury about halfway through the practice. He stopped participation after speaking with a trainer about the injury.
The little details
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
The weather: Roughly 60 degrees and pouring rain. (You know Bill Belichick absolutely loved it.) The pad level: Shorts and shells. Minicamp sessions are non-contact. The QB order in drills: Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer The competitive level: It was rainy, which seemed to take some vigor out of the practice, but it definitely got competitive in drills. The defense got plenty fired up after their only takeaway, a Kyle Van Noy interception. The best throw: Jarrett Stidham dropped an absolute dime to Nelson Agholor. With two defensive backs descending on the ball, Agholor had just enough space to make the catch. But he didn’t. Agholor fell to his knees to slide into the catch, but the ball went between his hands. It would’ve been one heck of a play — and it’s a testament to Stidham’s strong play this June at OTAs and, now, at minicamp. Wow! There was more than one play where linebacker Josh Uche absolutely flew past the man responsible for blocking him. That’s been a common theme for him this offseason. His speed has been impressive. Let’s see if that holds up when pads and contact come into play.
The winner and the loser
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
The winner: Mac Jones was not impressive in the Patriots’ final session of OTAs. He was extremely conservative, and was last in the pecking order of three (with Newton absent from a hand injury). It should have been an opportunity to prove himself, but it didn’t turn out that way. But on Monday, Jones had his best practice in front of the media. (We’ve only seen three OTA sessions and this first day of minicamp). Jones looked more aggressive, completing intermediate throws (of 10 to 20 yards) to receivers Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Isaiah Zuber, N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski and fullback Jakob Johnson. The loser(s): Not only did Smith suffer a hamstring injury, but he had five drops on the practice prior to that point (including individual and competitive drills). He took off his gloves after his first few drops, but still couldn’t wrangle many of his targets.
The quote of note:
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Matthew Slater on the major free agency signings.
“I understand that spending money doesn’t equal results. … It’s exciting but at some point you have to go out there and earn it.” There hasn’t been a clear eureka moment for many of the free agent signings. New England clearly wants linebacker Matthew Judon, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, Agholor, Smith and Hunter Henry to have big roles. But between injuries and execution errors, it hasn’t come together perfectly. It is very, very early. So these growing pains are par for the course.
https://twitter.com/McKennAnalysis/status/1404508082542198784 Here’s how the quarterbacks looked in their work during competitive team drills (11-on-11, 7-on-7 and the 2-minute drill): Newton 12/20 (drop) Jones 13/20 (drop) Stidham 8/15 (2 drops) Hoyer 2/6, INT
The top takeaway: Newton’s lack of accuracy stood out in the sloppy conditions
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Every quarterback had his fair share of ugly throws. Hoyer threw an interception directly to Kyle Van Noy, with absolutely no offensive player in the area. None of the media members could figure out the intended target. Jones skipped a few balls. As did Stidham. But no quarterback was as consistently inconsistent as Newton. He sailed the ball often, starting in warmups and individual drills. And then it carried into team drills, where he wasn’t placing the ball as well as he should have. And that’s where Jones is beginning to stand out. He has always been accurate, but he had been unable to do much more than check the ball down. If he continues to push the ball downfield more often, then perhaps he’ll actually begin to gain on Newton in this competition.
The second takeaway: Jalen Mills has a huge opportunity
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If there’s one player who seemed to benefit most from Gilmore’s absence, it’s Mills, who spent a lot of reps on the field opposite cornerback J.C. Jackson. Mills was solid, but not spectacular in coverage. He had one particular rep in 7-on-7 where he was tight with Olszewski, who couldn’t haul in a pass with Mills so tight on the receiver’s hip. But then Mills also whiffed in coverage against Meyers, who made a big place on the sideline on a pinpoint pass from Jones. Mills wanted an offensive pass interference penalty — but the coaches didn’t seem sympathetic.
Something silly to wrap it up
The Patriots finished practice by letting the kickers each get work (in 11-on-11 settings) on 40-yard to 50-yard field goal attempts. And though it had been dumping rain for the entire practice — and it was still actively raining — Belichick poured water on Jake Bailey’s hands and Roberto Aguayo’s foot — just for good measure. The rain, apparently, wasn’t enough for Belichick. He wanted to make things even more difficult for the two players with a little extra precipitation.