5. How Does Rookie WR Tyquan Thornton Handle Physical Coverage?
From the day the Patriots drafted him, Thornton’s slighter frame and how he handled physical coverage was a question mark, and the same could be said for minicamp standout Tre Nixon. Thornton certainly has some juice and can release off the line both from an explosion and short-area quickness perspective. But the speedster will see his fair share of physical coverage, even just to test him against press, when the pads go on this week. The Pats might keep Thornton away from press coverage by having him run routes out of the slot.
6. Is the Door Still Open for Others to Emerge at Outside Corner?
A promising development from the first week of camp was that Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell are quelling concerns at outside corner. In the early stages, Mills looked fantastic. He has made plays on the ball, forced receivers to make tough catches into his coverage, and looks like he’s in cruise control now in New England’s system. Mitchell, on the other hand, could give the Pats something similar to what Mills was last year: a steady veteran with good instincts and a high IQ. For now, that’ll do. The next step is to see more from rookie Jack Jones in pads. Jones hasn’t looked out of place this spring and summer, which is promising. We’ll give him a pass as he knocks the rust off, but it’s been an up-and-down start to camp for Malcolm Butler.
7. Pats Linebacker Raekwon McMillan Projected Into Large Role
If you’ve had the chance to visit Training Camp in the first four days, you probably saw number 46 in blue in the middle of the top defensive unit. McMillan, who earned compliments from head coach Bill Belichick for his high IQ and work ethic, is projected as an early favorite to start at linebacker this season. The Pats linebacker has great instincts and can hold up in early-down coverage while also possessing a downhill style that New England covets. We are also seeing trade acquisition Mack Wilson in coverage a bit, and second-year linebacker Cameron McGrone keeps adding things to his plate. Those three and veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley will compete for snaps at inside linebacker this season.
8. Battle at Slot Corner Behind Injured Jonathan Jones
Top slot corner Jonathan Jones (PUP list) and backup Myles Bryant (non-football injury list) aren’t practicing yet, so that opened the door for others to show the coaches what they can do in the slot. Second-year corner Shaun Wade and rookie Marcus Jones are both getting their chances, with Jones catching the eye here. With a potential role as a returner on the horizon as well, Jones is acclimating himself quickly to the pro game. It’ll be interesting to see how the smaller Jones competes when the physicality ramps up this week. Jones’s pass breakup on the final play of Saturday’s practice, a speed out intended for Jakobi Meyers, was the type of play that stands out for inside corners.
9. Pats Linebacker Anfernee Jennings Worth Monitoring
Entering his third season with the Patriots, the 2020 third-round pick was somewhat of an afterthought heading into the summer. However, Jennings is no longer on that list, as a three-play sequence saw him disrupt the quarterback on consecutive reps in Saturday’s practice. Jennings’s explosiveness off the ball popped, a hallmark of his game, along with good length before injuries stunted his development at Alabama. Jennings is also carving out a special teams role. With a void to fill opposite Matthew Judon, Jennings could surprise some people.
10. Building Out the Defensive Line Depth
The top of New England’s depth chart along the defensive line feels easy to predict, but some spots are up for grabs to fill out the depth. Although it’s hard to judge defensive linemen in non-padded practices, two rookies, LaBryan Ray and sixth-round pick Sam Roberts, have NFL frames and look like players you’ll want to see stop the run in full pads.
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