FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Thoughts and quick notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Mac’s Deep Ball: Spring workouts are the main menu appetizer, and quarterback Mac Jones and the Patriots offense provided a tasty taste of what they hope to cook up in 2022.
The main takeaway: there is potential for significant improvement in the through game.
Jones made three field throws in a tight window in the final practice of the mandatory minicamp that couldn’t have been better placed.
There was a high-arc ball on the left sideline to receiver Nelson Agholor, who had rookie cornerback Jack Jones running with him on a “go” route, so close that Jones shot his jersey when the ball arrives.
Then a deep right-to-left cross to tight end Jonnu Smith, who looked barely open with safety Kyle Dugger in his back pocket, but made a diving catch.
And finally, a 50-yard bomb in the middle of receiver Tre Nixon, who somehow pinned the throw in the bucket on his chest with his right hand, while cornerback Jonathan Jones was all over him. Jones looked stunned at the completion based on his coverage.
These were plays that sparked offensive celebrations, and veteran safety Devin McCourty called them “haymakers” — great throws and catches against prime coverage.
McCourty said the way the offense and defense traded “big hits” this spring, with neither team dominating, is the type of sign he looks for when assessing the potential of a complete team.
Offense-specific, success in the deep passing game could be the missing piece to becoming a complete offense.
Consider these nuggets from last season, via ESPN Stats & Information:
41% of Jones’ pass attempts thrown at least 20 yards down were passed or missed last season, an off-target mark that ranked 21st in the NFL (league average 36%).
Jones ranked 24th with a 38.8% completion rate on vertical routes last season according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His above-expectation completion percentage on those throws was -4.5% (26th of 31 qualified QBs).
Jones had his most completions from 20+ yards on the ground for receiver Jakobi Meyers (7 of 16), but struggled to connect with Agholor (4 of 17, 0 TD, 2 INT).
Patriots receivers ranked 25th with just 1.6 yards of separation on deep balls according to NFL Next Gen stats.
Jones said “good progress” had been made in practice this spring, but stressed that work needed to continue.
“We want to be able to do whatever we want to do at all times, whether it’s a run, a pass, a game action – short, medium or long. We try to be able to have a bit of variety,” he said. he declares.
2. The hustle and bustle of beginners: In 2003, when safety Rodney Harrison signed with the Patriots as a free agent, he was training at a different pace and blasted receiver Troy Brown on a play. Nearly 20 years later, a parallel could be established with Patriots first-round pick Cole Strange as in the final practice game on Tuesday, the guard got tangled up with outside linebacker Matthew Judon after a group of players were around a football loose, and there were screams on the ground.
No hard feelings from Judon, who then pointed out something others around the Patriots have said about Strange — he’s still on full throttle (which was a Harrison staple).
“If you saw him he was sprinting 30 yards,” Judon said. “Big push on his part.”
3. Eyes on Nixon: Nixon, a practice squad receiver (seventh round, 2021, Central Florida), has had two of the most impressive plays this spring, so now the question is whether he can carry that momentum into camp. practice and charge for a spot on the roster. Agholor praised him (“I don’t think there’s anyone who trains that hard”), and Mac Jones explained that his connection to Nixon extends beyond the field. They used to go to the stadium together last season, take their COVID-19 tests and then enter the building with each other.
4. Kendrick’s cake: Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne was granted an excused absence for the first practice of the mandatory minicamp as part of his wedding celebration, and the team surprised him with a cake when he returned. It’s a time that reflects the camaraderie and chemistry that can be developed at this time on the NFL schedule.
Check out some of Arizona State’s Jack Jones’ best plays as he prepares for the NFL Draft.
5. Draft report: First impressions of the Patriots class of 2022:
G Cole Strange (first round): plug-and-play starter at left guard
WR Tyquan Thornton (second): Speed as advertised; working as a gunner could be his ticket to landing on the matchday 46-man roster
DB Marcus Jones (third): always in red jersey without contact (shoulders); projects as a returner and sub-defender
CB Jack Jones (fourth): sticky cover outside; curious to see if he can push to start after watching the play
RB Pierre Strong Jr. (fourth): Had a kickoff returner look, where the speed stood out
QB Bailey Zappe (fourth): Work ethic not at issue; usually one of the last players to leave the pitch
RB Kevin Harris (sixth): Received an ear from special teams coordinator Cam Achord for a blocking error on a kickoff return
DT Sam Roberts (sixth): Hard to judge much from his position without pads and full contact
OL Chasen Hines/Andrew Stueber (sixth/seventh): did not train
6. Recruit Value: If Jack Jones emerges as a contributor after finishing strong in spring training, it would highlight the financial value of receiving contributions from those playing on rookie contracts. Jones’ deal he signed on Thursday includes a signing bonus of $746,984 (paid in two installments) and base salaries of $705,000, $870,000, $985,000 and $1.1 million . So, his cap fee is only $891,746, $1.05 million, $1.1 million, and $1.2 million.
7. Fight! As Jack Jones fielded questions from reporters last week, Agholor interrupted him, shouting “Fight On!” It was a reference to the USC fight song, as Agholor dropped out of school in 2015 and Jones started his career there in 2016 before finishing at Arizona State. They’ve had a few notable battles at the Patriots training ground over the past few weeks, then shared smiles over their Trojan ties afterward. “I knew Nelly before coming up here; I saw him around SC,” Jones said. “I love competing with him. We make each other better.”
8. Belichick and Banda: Coach Bill Belichick has been heavily involved in the offense, but at the team’s last minicamp practice he was visibly without intervention. He spent most of practice twirling his whistle on the sideline and talking with Utah State defensive coordinator/safety coach Ephraim Banda. Belichick’s time is precious, and the extended conversation with Banda made me wonder more about his background and what might have piqued Belichick’s interest.
9. Health check: Defensive tackle Byron Cowart and rookie offensive linemen Hines and Stueber are among those to watch medically when the Patriots return to training camp in late July. They haven’t trained this spring, making them candidates for the physically unable to perform list if they don’t progress next month. Meyers, running back James White, rookie defensive back Marcus Jones and tight ends Dalton Keene and Hunter Henry were limited, so they also have some catching up to do.
10. Did you know? Receiver DeVante Parker, who got a through pass from Mac Jones last week while jumping over cornerback Jalen Mills, has the most tight throw receptions in the NFL in the past five seasons ( 69), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Julio Jones (63) and Mike Williams (62) are next on the list. Tight window throws are defined as less than a yard of separation when the pass arrives.