Phil Perry

Patriots training camp stock watch: Offense comes to life

A little extra room to operate did wonders for the Patriots' offense in Sunday's practice.

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FOXBORO -- The Patriots offense got a little more breathing room on Sunday, and wouldn't you know it? They looked a little more comfortable.

After three practices focused exclusively on the red zone, the Patriots backed up toward the middle of the field at times on Day 4. The windows weren't quite so tight. The Patriots' defense had more ground to cover. And as a result, the passing game looked more competent than it has for most of camp to this point. 

Mac Jones went 6-for-10 in the most competitive periods of practice. Bailey Zappe went 11-for-13 with an interception. While it wasn't perfect, there were signs of life on the offensive side of the ball. 

Here's whose stock improved -- and whose took a dip -- one day before pads are expected to come on for the first time...

Stock Up

Bailey Zappe

It's been a slog at times for the second-team offense. The depth of the Patriots' defensive personnel is better. The pass-catchers for Zappe are lacking, as have been the offensive linemen. But Sunday was his best day of camp despite a late pick thrown to Jalen Mills in the front corner of the end zone on his last throw of the day.

Zappe dropped long touchdown passes in the bucket to Jalen Hurd and Tre Nixon. He also hit Tyquan Thornton -- worth noting Thornton got some work with the second quarterback today after a slow start to camp -- on a shorter-but-still-very-accurate over-the-shoulder score.

Zappe's favorite target? Demario "Pop" Douglas, who continues to impress. The rookie sixth-rounder caught all four of the targets he saw from Zappe, and he's proven to be very difficult to track in coverage thanks to his short-area quicks. Whether it was a stutter-and-go move or a change-of-direction whip route, he found a variety of ways to get open.

Rhamondre Stevenson

Before the pads come on Monday, it's important to mention just how capable Stevenson can be in the passing game. He caught four passes from Mac Jones in 11-on-11 team periods, including a touchdown on a nicely-designed concept -- it involved a motion out of the backfield and a pick from teammate Hunter Henry -- serving as a reminder of Stevenson's reliability in the passing game.

The Patriots could still use depth at running back, particularly with Ty Montgomery (didn't practice Sunday) continuing to miss time. But they know they have a capable do-everything option in Stevenson. Right now, adding a capable backup could do wonders in terms of helping keep Stevenson fresh for December and January.

Marte Mapu

It'll be interesting to see just how much Mapu participates in padded practices since he's still donning a red non-contact jersey in these sessions. But he was active on Sunday. He appears to be in the running to be one of the team's top linebacker options in "sub" situations. Whether it's a hurry-up scenario or an obvious passing down, Mapu's size (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) and athleticism make him a good fit to match up with running backs and play at the second level.

He also saw time at safety, interestingly. Bill Belichick said on Sunday that he doesn't subscribe to the notion that you have to ease rookies in if they're expected to eventually handle multiple roles. Because if you ease them in and don't build them a foundation in said roles in the offseason, he argued, how can they handle multiple roles when the games matter? Clearly, they feel comfortable running Mapu on the field in multiple capacities. Speaks to his football IQ and moldable skill set. 

Stock Down

Marcus Jones

One of the most dynamic athletes on the roster had a heckuva time in coverage on Sunday. He was trailing in coverage when Nixon caught his long touchdown from Zappe. He also found himself trying to catch up to Douglas when the rookie stutter-stepped over the middle of the field and continued on a crossing route for a touchdown.

Later, Thornton's touchdown reception from Zappe came with Jones in tight coverage but not tight enough to be able to knock the football away. All three were tip-your-cap kinds of plays by the offense, but Jones certainly would've liked to bust up one or two of those if given a re-do.

Patriots offensive line

Training camp is, generally speaking, a necessary evil for players. Not exactly what they'd choose to do with their free time. Most of them, anyway. But Patriots offensive linemen might be dying to wear some pads soon. Hot as they'll be, ratcheting up the physicality might give them a better shot of holding up in pass protection.

Things went south late in Sunday's practice as Mac Jones was "sacked" on three consecutive snaps. First, it was Deatrich Wise coming up with a coverage sack. (Not exactly the fault of the linemen, it's worth noting.) Then it was Matthew Judon and Josh Uche both defeating blocks on the edge to meet at the quarterback for another "sack." Then Christian Barmore had his way with the interior of the offensive line and would've smushed Jones if not for the red non-contact jersey.

Later a blitz -- it looked like it might've been Cover 0, meaning an all-out blitz -- found soft spots in Jones' protection and quickly forced an errant throw. 

Kayshon Boutte

The rookie sixth-round wideout wasn't spotted at Sunday's practice. Through four days, he's seen Douglas establish himself as clearly the top rookie wideout in Foxboro. We'll try to ascertain why Boutte wasn't around for Day 4, but if he starts to experience some availability issues, that could end up knocking him further down the depth chart.

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