Two weeks of training camp are in the books, and now the Patriots will take the weekend off before flying to Detroit for a series of joint practices with Matt Patricia’s Lions in the lead-up to next Thursday’s preseason opener.
What have we learned so far? Here are five quick thoughts on where the Patriots stand at this stage of camp.
1. Favorites emerging
Who is a lock? Who is on the bubble? It’s a lot easier to make a distinction now with two weeks of practice in the books. Linebacker Jamie Collins? Definitely making the team. He has worked almost exclusively with the first-team defense and made a pronounced impact in goal-line drills. Safety Terrence Brooks? Much more than just a core special teamer, if his consistent presence with the starting defense is any indication. Safety Obi Melifonwu has also enjoyed a strong start, making three interceptions and earning some first team looks. If he and Brooks continue at this rate, veteran Nate Ebner, who hasn’t seen the field yet due to injury, might be in trouble.
Other notables who have seen action with the first team include defensive end Derek Rivers, left tackle Dan Skipper — who has seen the majority of reps on the first team while Isaiah Wynn works his way back from last year’s season-ending injury — and undrafted rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers. Rookie punter Jake Bailey has also made a strong impression, receiving first reps in both kickoffs and punt drills.
2. Stidham progressing
There is no quarterback controversy in New England, but rookie Jarrett Stidham has put forth a strong effort in his first training camp. The fourth-round pick out of Auburn has completed 25 of 36 passes (69.64) in competitive 11 on 11 drills, including a handful of beauties like the three consecutive dimes he dropped to fellow rookies Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. By comparison, Tom Brady has completed 30 of 54 passes (55.5%) and Brian Hoyer is 32 of 51 (62.7%), and notably, Stidham took the second team reps instead of Hoyer at the end of Friday’s practice.
It will be interesting to see how Stidham looks in a preseason game. At this stage it looks like the Patriots will carry all three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility Stidham could wind up winning the back-up quarterback job outright.
3. Backs expanding roles
If there was one criticism you could come up with about Sony Michel’s rookie season, it’s that he was often too one-dimensional. The former first-rounder only caught seven passes for 50 yards and no touchdowns last season, and when he was on the field, the Patriots ran the ball 80% of the time. By comparison, when James White (87 catches, 751 yards, 7 touchdowns) was on the field, the team threw the ball 80% of the time.
This summer the Patriots appear to be trying to even those percentages, as both Michel and rookie Damien Harris have been regularly involved in the passing game. Michel led the team with five catches on Friday between 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, and Harris has now caught all six balls thrown his way in 11 on 11s during camp. White remains a favorite target, and Rex Burkhead had been productive in the passing game before suffering the injury that has limited him to conditioning work the past few days.
4. Wynn nearly back
One of the most important stories of training camp has been the ongoing recovery of left tackle Isaiah Wynn. After suffering a season-ending Achilles injury during the preseason last summer, the Patriots have played it slow with the former first round pick, limiting him to low-intensity, low-contact work while handing most of the competitive reps to Dan Skipper and Cedrick Lang.
The fact that Wynn has consistently been on the field — compared to injured rookie tackle Yodny Cajuste, who hasn’t been spotted all camp — is a good sign, and lately there have been signs that Wynn might be ready to increase his workload. On Friday, the projected starter took his first reps in competitive 11 on 11s of the preseason, granted in a non-padded environment, and he’s steadily gotten more involved in positional and team drills as well.
5. Defense dominates
If there’s one positive trend from last year’s playoffs that have continued this preseason, it’s that the Patriots’ defense looks really, really good. Stephon Gilmore, recently named the NFL’s top cornerback in the NFL Network’s Top 100 list, hasn’t allowed a single completion all of camp (0 for 6). J.C. Jackson, Jon Jones and Brooks have regularly dominated their matchups, and the goal line defense has been a brick wall. The offense has had a few really tough moments — Thursday’s false start, false start, fumbled handoff trifecta was especially brutal — but when it’s been time to put up or shut up, the defense has typically come through.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MacCerullo.