Following the loss to the New York Giants in Week 1, 23-21, there is only one thing on the mind in Foxboro: New England Patriots joint practice. This week, the Patriots play host to the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, allowing New England to ratchet up their physicality and intensity.
Here are the things to pay attention to in the week ahead.
New England Patriots Joint Practice With Carolina Panthers is Next
In their first preseason game, the Patriots rested all but a few projected starters on offense and defense. Notable exceptions were rookie first-round pick, Cole Strange, punter Jake Bailey, and linebackers Mack Wilson Sr. and Josh Uche. And despite their decision not to play their starters, a few things about the team became clear.
The Old Offense Remains
Despite tireless work during training camp by the Patriots to install the outside zone running scheme, the Patriots deployed several spread and pro-style looks on offense in their first game. For much of the snaps, backup quarterbacks Bailey Zappe and Brian Hoyer operated the offense in the typical Erhardt-Perkins way and moved the ball semi-effectively against New York.
For all that was made about the offensive scheme change, it is clear that the Patriots have not abandoned their old offense, perhaps in an attempt to run a hybrid offense in 2022. Part pro-style, part outside zone. During each series, there was a collective sigh of relief across New England that the offense showed some signs of life and a little pop.
Bright Spots on Both Sides of The Ball
Even in the loss, a few young players made a real impact on the game and raised some eyebrows.
Rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thronton caught both of his targets, one of them going for a two-yard touchdown. During his time on the field, Thronton showed off his impressive speed, as well as his ability to release at the line of scrimmage and get open. Despite qualms about his ability to play, given his slender build, his performance has many hoping he can right the N’Keal Harry wrong in the Patriots receiver room.
2022 Sixth-round pick, defensive lineman Sam Roberts, also showed some real promise. On several occasions, Roberts found himself overpowering seventh-overall pick, offensive tackle Evan Neal, and disrupting up front. Roberts finished the game with six total tackles and bolstered his chance of finding his way on the practice squad and possibly the field during the season.
Also helping their chances at making an impact on the team were Mack Wilson Sr. and rookie cornerback Jack Jones. Wilson Sr. displayed his great physicality and sideline-to-sideline speed, while Jones’ coverage and good ball instincts showed flashes reminiscent of J.C. Jackson and a young Malcolm Butler. With the linebacker and cornerback positions still, a big unknown for the Patriots, Wilson Sr., and Jones’ play offers a hopeful sign that things may just pan out on defense in Foxboro.
Joe Judge and Patriots Calling Plays
The coaching cabal of offensive line coach Matt Patricia and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge continues to amaze.
During the first two series of the game with veteran Brian Hoyer, Patricia held the playsheet and wore the headset, indicating he was the one calling plays for the offense. But, when rookie Bailey Zappe took the field, the reins were handed to Joe Judge to take over. And while having different offensive coaches call plays is not unheard of in the preseason, the Patriots lack of transparency in the coaching titles continues to invite questions and concern.
Who is calling plays at the Patriots joint practice will further indicate who gets the nod for calling the plays this week but does not preclude Bill Belichick from continuing to muddy the coaching waters before our very eyes.
What to Watch for at Patriots Joint Practice
New England’s lack of physicality at practice this training camp has been noteworthy. In the past, the Patriots, at this point in the preseason, would be at full contact and prepping players for full-speed football. But the lack of full-contact practices has many wondering if Bill Belichick has changed his coaching philosophy.
Notions that Belichick is “going easy” on his players by limiting physical practice are trite and likely more of an indication that they are worried about injury. Last season, the Patriots lost linebacker Raekwon McMillan, tight end Dalton Keene, defensive end Henry Anderson, and running back James White before their fourth regular season game. Perhaps, to avoid similar injury and risk, Belichick wants to roll out his players slowly before the season starts.
How the Patriots respond to full-contact, full-speed in practice against the Panthers will be interesting to watch.
Will The Starters Play?
With the new three-game preseason, teams are readjusting how they attack exhibition matches. So far, many teams have begun the season resting the majority of their first-team starters to provide more preparation and rest. But with the Patriots amid an offensive onboarding, the starters stand to gain a lot from a semi-competitive environment.
If the practices between the Patriots and the Panthers are physical for all three days, the likelihood that Mac Jones and the starters play in the Week 2 game diminishes. The Patriots may substitute the actual game for some hard-hitting practices or use them to supplement their game. Back in June, after some competitive minicamp practices, Bill Belichick called off the remainder of the week’s sessions, believing the team earned the extra rest and recovery. Maybe Belichick will do the same ahead of their game during Patriots joint practice.
Who Is on the Outside Looking In?
With the first round of roster cuts looming on August 16th, some Patriots players are in the hot seat. While the first cut only takes the roster totals from 90 players to 85 players, it begins the swift process of organizing the depth chart.
The first players expected to go would be defensive back Jalen Elliot, wide receiver Josh Hammond, and linebackers Jahlani Tavai, Nate Wieland, and Harvey Langi, as those positions are already chockfull of roster locks. That said, depending on how the team intends to field their players this week, some bottom-of-the-depth chart players could stick around another week.
In looking forward to the next rounds of cuts on August 23rd and 30th, players like former second-round corner Joejuan Williams, slot cornerback Myles Bryant, receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and a band of backup offensive linemen are likely looking to nuzzle their way onto the practice squad in the next two weeks. Although the Patriots roster is not flush with All-Pro talent, their depth at every position makes it hard for preseason standouts to unseat any current players.