Tom E. Curran

Patriots training camp observations: Receivers make ‘big' impact

Here's what stood out to Tom E. Curran on Day 1 of Patriots training camp.

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FOXBORO -- The Patriots' first training camp practice of the new year is in the books. Here's what we witnessed Wednesday outside Gillette Stadium.

What they wore

The fellas were in shorts, practice jerseys and helmets for the first of the team’s "ramp-up" workouts under clear blue skies with temps in the mid-80s and a decent breeze.

Who was there

It was very close to a full roster on the two practice fields behind the stadium. Trent Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Lawrence Guy were all on the field -- as Bill Belichick indicated they would be during his Tuesday press conference.

Missing were offensive tackle Calvin Anderson (non-football injury list), offensive guard Mike Onwenu (physically unable to perform list) and special teamer Cody Davis (PUP).

Matthew Judon and rookie edge rusher DaMarcus Mitchell were limited and rookie safety/LB Marte Mapu was in a red jersey as he is still recovering from a pec injury.

What they did

Players began filtering out to the field at about 9 a.m. Rookie kicker Chad Ryland was the first out there. The sparse crowd filled the stands quickly by the actual start of practice at 9:30 a.m.

With live contact prohibited until next week, the early part of practice was devoted to special teams and individual drills before 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 goal-to-go work began. Ninety-seven percent of those light-contact (basically two-hand touch) reps were throws.

Practice lasted until about 11:30 a.m. concluding with wind sprints -- pleased to report that Trent Brown managed those just fine and looked waaaaayyyyy better than he did 45 days ago -- and field goals.

Of particular note

  • Like last year, there was very good energy from the offensive skill players. DeVante Parker and Smith-Schuster both interacted with the crowd during individual drills, and tight end Hunter Henry -- after making a sliding touchdown catch in 11-on-11 -- got up and waved his hands to the crowd on the hill behind the end zone. As camp went on last year, the offense got quieter and had less to celebrate, but this was a good start.
  • Assistant head coach Joe Judge still appears to be taking the lead in running special teams.
  • One thing sticking out about the Patriots’ wideouts and tight ends? Bigness. Newly-signed wideout Jalen Hurd is 6-foot-4, tight end/WR hybrid Scotty Washington is 6-foot-5, Parker is 6-foot-3, Smith-Schuster is 6-foot-1 and more solidly built than the departed Jakobi Meyers, TE/WR hybrid Mike Gesicki is 6-foot-6, Hunter Henry is 6-foot-5, Tyquan Thornton is 6-foot-2, Kendrick Bourne is 6-foot-1, Tre Nixon is 6-foot-2 and Kayshon Boutte is 6-foot. Only Ed Lee (5-10) and Demario Douglas (5-8) are under six feet.
    • It’s a bit of a pivot for an offense that’s had smaller fellas -- Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, James White, Brandin Cooks and others I’m forgetting -- as some of their most impactful contributors.
  • Free agent signee Riley Reiff was first up at right tackle and converted defensive lineman Bill Murray continues to carve a niche on offense as the guy stepping in for Onwenu at right guard.
  • Ty Montgomery, who had a nice camp and preseason last year before a Week 1 injury ended his season, still looks like a favorite to be a big contributor if his health cooperates. In the low red zone work, he had four catches on a variety of routes. He’s now listed as a wideout on the depth chart but he feels like a nice Swiss Army Knife weapon.
  • Mac Jones’ first throw of the day in team drills was picked off at the back of the end zone by safety Kyle Dugger, who cut in front of Gesicki.
  • The defense won the day during the "competitive" reps which isn’t a surprise. It’s hard to get open inside the 10-yard line and offensive timing is weeks away from being game-level. But it remains noteworthy how few "easy" throws were available for Jones, Bailey Zappe or Trace McSorley.
    • The defense deserves credit, for sure, but the absence of a skill position player who can just line up and dominate with either speed, quickness or physicality remains a concern. Scheme as well as Mac Jones’ brain and accuracy are going to be the key to the entire offense.
  • At least in this first practice, it appears rookie Christian Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones are the lead corners. Jack Jones worked with the second group. Jalen Mills did a little of both.

Play of the day

It wasn’t a big day for sensational plays but Dugger’s pick on the first rep of 7-on-7 showcased the fourth-year safety’s burst, intelligence and ball skills. Kind of as he did in 2022.  

Quote of the day

"I think we’re good," Mac Jones when asked his relationship with Bill Belichick. To be fair, Jones, begins A LOT of responses with “I think…” so perhaps he didn’t mean to sound as unsure as he did.

Patriots QB Mac Jones is asked about his relationship at the start of camp with Bill Belichick
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