Tyquan Thornton is showing signs that he could end the Patriots’ WR woes in the early round

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick thoughts and notes about the New England Patriots and the NFL:

Dan Campbell gives latest update on...
Dan Campbell gives latest update on WR Jameson Williams

1. Thornton’s fit: In light of the latest chapter in the Patriots’ shaky history of selecting receivers early in the draft — when they swooped on N’Keal Harry in late 2019’s first round — the status of 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton has been a remarkable story through nine training camp games.

Just as the Patriots selected Harry over Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown and DK Metcalf in 2019, they nabbed Thornton this year ahead of a lineup of receivers that included George Pickens (Steelers), Alec Pierce (Colts) and Skyy Moore (Chiefs).

There are early signs that a 2019-type scenario will not repeat itself.

“It’s been exciting to watch him grow, honestly, because he came in a little questionable,” fellow receiver Jakobi Meyers said. “Then he started to come true. Really talented. I’m glad he’s with us.”

The 6-foot-2, 182-pound Thornton, who was the fastest receiver at the 2022 NFL combine (4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash), acknowledged that his arrival this spring came with some initial turbulence.

“The first week was a little difficult for a lot of us, just because we had that transition from college to the NFL,” he said, adding that he soon settled into a more consistent routine.

In doing so, receivers coach Ross Douglas said of Thornton last week: “He’s gotten better every time he’s been on the field. He’s really got a lot of gifts. It’s not just his speed. His ability to change direction, ball skills . He’s got a good attitude and the guys in the room have embraced him. His development will be key and we’ll get him there.”

Thornton’s reliable hands and ability to track the deep ball have consistently shown up in 1-on-1 drills. Now comes the challenge of transferring that to 11-on-11 drills, where he most often works behind Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne — a foursome that appears locked in at the top of the depth chart.

Thornton, who has been lifted by a small section of fans who support him every day, has also worked as a shooter covering punts — a role that could add value and help secure a spot on the 46-man game-day roster.

“I like where he’s at mentally,” Agholor said. “He has a growth mindset, practices really hard, takes good notes.”

Added cornerback Jalen Mills: “We all know he’s fast. I think the biggest thing for me is he just doesn’t run go routes every single play. You see him work on his short to intermediate routes as well .”

2. Mac & Judge: Last year, whenever quarterback Mac Jones came to the sideline, he was usually shoulder-to-shoulder with former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Their connection was critical in Jones’ successful rookie season. Who that will be in 2022 may come into sharper focus during Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants, and it’s likely to be quarterbacks coach Joe Judge.

“You can’t fast forward a relationship,” Judge said when asked about Jones. “You have to build on that every day. It’s about building trust, it’s about learning each other and how to work with each other and what that guy needs to help him be at his best. That’s my priority. For me, it’s about open communication… He’s an intelligent player. He’s a very hard worker. He knows what he likes, he’s willing to tell you. But he’s also willing to try everything, if it’s best for the team. He’s been fun to work with.”

3. ‘Empathise’: How big of a deal to make about the offense’s early inconsistency? That question lingers, as there have been more “no chance” plays — where Jones and rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe have simply hid the football or thrown it away — than is the norm for a Bill Belichick-coached team. Part of that seems to be related to the Patriots experimenting with new things. Belichick said late last week that the team was making progress while adding that there are “miles to go” — which seems to reflect where the offense is through nine practices.

4. Kraft’s candidacy: Belichick touted owner Robert Kraft’s Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ The Chains” program. Kraft is a semifinalist, and while there is no set criteria for Hall of Famers, Belichick highlighted three layers that bolster Kraft’s case.

“He’s a phenomenal owner,” Belichick said. “You look at what he’s done across the board. He’s made great contributions to the league, in things like the CBA and other policies, and the growth of the league. He’s obviously done a great job here in New England, just by keeping the team in New England and not letting it out of here and the success he’s had.

“You can put him in the Hall of Fame for one of them. Combine all three together and hopefully we’ll celebrate in Canton next year.”

5. Godchaux’s value: Belichick opened eyes when he referred to Davon Godchaux as “one of the best defensive linemen in the league” after the Patriots signed him to a two-year, $20.8 million extension. Defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington added context to explain how Godchaux’s work is not easily traceable but crucial to the defense: “His ability to stop the run, beat blockers and push the pocket to impact the quarterback is [among] the best in the league.”

6. Jonnu’s turn: Tight end Jonnu Smith’s 2021 production didn’t measure up to the four-year, $50 million contract he signed as a free agent, but there are signs that could change. “He had a great offseason for us,” Judge said. Last year, the Patriots ran just 190 of their offensive plays (18%) with both Smith and fellow tight end Hunter Henry on the field, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. That figure should increase in 2022.

7. Rookie #’s coming: Belichick’s annual tradition of putting rookies in nontraditional jersey numbers ends for 2022 this week with the team’s first preseason game, as league rules don’t allow things like Thornton, a receiver, wearing No. 51. “It’s going to be really sad,” Thornton said with a smile. “I feel like 51 is a part of me now — the big old jersey and I’m running around. I had fun with it.”

8. Fellowship-in-action: As Covington answered questions from reporters last week, Arkansas graduate assistant coach Keith Jones looked over his shoulder. It was a snapshot of the Bill Walsh Coaching Fellowship in action; Jones played for Covington at Tennessee-Martin in 2015 and has worked at Patriots training camp this summer as a fellowship coach. “I’ve always been taught as you continue to climb, you help pull others up,” Covington said.

9. Butler follow-up: When the Dolphins released former Patriots defensive tackle Adam Butler with a failed physical designation last week, some wondered if it could mean a return to New England for the interior pass rusher. That’s unlikely in the short term, sources say, as Butler must first address a lingering shoulder problem from last season. Meanwhile, LaBryan Ray (Alabama) has caught the eye as a Butler-like option — an undrafted free agent targeting a guard spot because of his passing ability.

10. Did you know? This year marks the first time since 2004 that the Patriots will not end their preseason with a game against the Giants.





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