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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick thoughts and notes about the New England Patriots and the NFL:
Macs deep ball: This spring’s drills are the starter for the main menu, and quarterback Mac Jones and the Patriots’ attack gave a tasty foretaste of what they hope to cook in 2022.
The most important takeaway: There is potential for significant improvements in the deep passing game.
Jones delivered three downfield throws with tight windows in the final practice of mandatory minicamp, which could not have been placed better.
There was a high-bow ball down the left sideline to receiver Nelson Agholor, who had rookie cornerback Jack Jones running step by step on a “go” route, so close that Jones jerked his jersey when the ball arrived .
Then a deep right-to-left crossing route to tight end Jonnu Smith, who barely appeared open with safety Kyle Dugger in the back pocket but got a dive catch.
And finally a 50-yard bomb down the middle to receiver Tre Nixon, who somehow strapped the throw-in-the-bucket-throw firmly to his chest with his right hand when cornerback Jonathan Jones was over him. Jones seemed stunned over the finish based on his coverage.
It was acting that triggered the celebration of the attack, and veteran safety Devin McCourty referred to them as “haymakers” – great throws and catches against top cover.
McCourty said the way the offense and defense exchanged “big-time shots” at each other in the spring, with neither side dominating, is the type of sign he looks for when assessing the potential of a complete team.
Specifically for the attack, success in the deep pass game can be the missing piece to become a complete attack.
Consider these gold nuggets from last season via ESPN Stats & Information:
41% of Jones’ passing attempts thrown at least 20 yards down the field were over- or under-thrown last season, a mark outside the goal that ranked 21st in the NFL (league average 36%).
Jones ranked 24th with a completion rate of 38.8% on vertical routes last season, according to the NFL Next Gen Stats. His completion rate above expectation on these throws was -4.5% (26th out of 31 qualified QBs).
Jones had his most completions 20-plus yards downfield to receiver Jakobi Meyers (7-of-16) but struggled to connect with Agholor (4-of-17, 0 TD, 2 INT).
Patriots receivers ranked No. 25 with just 1.6 yards separation on deep balls per game. NFL Next Gen Stats.
Jones felt “good steps” in practice this spring, but stressed that work must continue.
“We want to be able to do what we want at any given time, whether it’s a run, pass, play-action – short, medium or long. We try to be able to have a little bit of variation, “he said.
2. Rookie Hustle: In 2003, when safety Rodney Harrison signed with the Patriots as a free agent, he practiced at a different pace, beating receiver Troy Brown on one game. Nearly 20 years later, a parallel could be drawn to the Patriots’ first-round pick Cole Strange, when the guard at the last training game on Tuesday became entangled with external linebacker Matthew Judon, after a group of players were around a loose football, and shouted on the field .
No harsh feelings from Judon, who later highlighted something others around the Patriots have said about Strange – he’s always full throttle (which was a Harrison staple).
“If you saw him, he sprinted from 30 yards away,” Judon said. “Great tribulation from him.”
3. Eyes on Nixon: Nixon, a training team receiver (seventh round, 2021, Central Florida), made two of the most impressive games this spring, so now the question is whether he can take that momentum into the training camp and take care of a spot on the list. Agholor raved about him (“I do not think there is anyone who trains so hard”), and Mac Jones explained that his connection with Nixon extends beyond the field. They used to drive to the stadium together last season, take their COVID-19 tests and then walk into the building with each other.
4. Kendrick’s Cake: Recipient Kendrick Bourne was given an apologetic absence for the first training of mandatory minicamp as part of his wedding celebration, and the team surprised him with a cake when he returned. It’s a moment that reflects the camaraderie and chemistry that can be developed at this point on the NFL calendar.
Watch some of the best plays from Arizona State’s Jack Jones as he prepares for the NFL Draft.
5. Draft report: First impressions of the Patriots’ 2022 class:
G Cole Strange (first round): Plug-and-play starts at left guard
WR Tyquan Thornton (second): Speed as advertised; work as a shooter could be his ticket to land on the 46-man playing day list
DB Marcus Jones (third): Still in a red non-contact jersey (shoulders); projects as a recurring and sub-defender
CB Jack Jones (fourth): Sticky cover on the outside; curious to see if he can make a push to start after looking at the part
RB Pierre Strong Jr. (fourth): Got a look like a kickoff return where the speed stood out
QB Bailey Zappe (fourth): Work ethic is not in doubt; usually one of the last players to leave the field
RB Kevin Harris (sixth): Got an ear from special team coordinator Cam Achord for a blocking foul on a kickoff return
DT Sam Roberts (sixth): Hard to judge much on his position without pads and full contact
Olympics Chasen Hines / Andrew Stueber (sixth / seventh): Did not practice
6. Rookie value: If Jack Jones emerges as a contributor after finishing strong in the spring training sessions, it will highlight the economic value of receiving contributions from those who play on rookie contracts. Jones’ deal, which he signed Thursday, includes a signature bonus of $ 746,984 (paid in two installments) and a base salary of $ 705,000, $ 870,000, $ 985,000 and $ 1.1 million. So his rates are only $ 891,746, $ 1.05 million, $ 1.1 million and $ 1.2 million.
7. Fight on! When Jack Jones answered questions from reporters last week, Agholor interrupted by shouting “Fight On!” It was a reference to USC’s fight song when Agholor came out of school in 2015, and Jones began his career there in 2016, before graduating from Arizona State. They had a couple of notable fights on the Patriots’ training ground in recent weeks and then shared smiles about their Trojan ties afterwards. “I knew Nelly before I came up here; I used to see him around SC,” Jones said. “I love competing with him. We make each other better.”
8. Belichick and Banda: Coach Bill Belichick has been hands-on with the attack, but in the team’s last minicamp practice he was noticeable hands off. I’ve spent most of the training spinning his whistle on the sidelines and talking to Utah State defensive coordinator / safety coach Ephraim Banda. Belichick’s time is valuable, and the extended chat 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 be medically monitored when the Patriots return to training camp in late July. They have not practiced in the spring, making them candidates for the list of physically unable to perform if they do not make progress in the 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 something to make up for.
10. Did you know that? Receiver DeVante Parker, who dragged a deep pass in from Mac Jones last week while skipping cornerback Jalen Mills, has, according to the NFL Next Gen State, the most receptions on tight-wind throws in the NFL in the last five seasons (69 ). Julio Jones (63) and Mike Williams (62) are next on the list. Narrow window throws are defined as less than a yard separation when the pass arrives.