The New England Patriots completed their three-day mini-camp last week. As always, there are some takeaways that will be monitored when the Pats open up training camp next month. Here is what we saw at the mini-camp.
Bill Belichick has said that Cam Newton will be the starting quarterback, even though the Pats drafted Mac Jones in the first round. Jones is the first quarterback the Pats have taken in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993. Everyone knows that Newton struggled last season, but that was due to multiple factors. First, he signed late and he did not have a training camp or any preseason games due to the pandemic.
Second, he had to learn a new offense, a Patriots offense. Lastly, if that wasn’t enough, he ended up getting the Covid-19 virus which cost him to miss one game. Even though it was just one game he was hampered by Covid-19 after returning to the team and wasn’t 100%. Add all those up and that can explain some of the struggles he had in the 2020 season.
During the mini-camp, he suffered a hand injury which allowed Jones to get a few more reps. With these reps, Jones looked pretty good as he made some good decisions and displayed some of that accuracy we saw at Alabama. Cam did return from his injured hand and played well. Cam is the starter and I think he will be all season unless something unforeseen happens. However, with Jones performing well, training camp is going to be very interesting.
The Stephon Gilmore Situation
Gilmore, who is in the final year of his contract, was a no-show at mini-camp. He has been mentioned as a potential trade candidate throughout the entire off-season but remains on the roster. Their is no doubt the Pats want him in their defensive backfield but that may be a problem.
Gilmore is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and still one of the game’s best corners, but the problem is he is not paid like a top-tier cornerback. He believes he is and no one in the NFL doubts that. The Pats will have a decision to make when training camp opens. I think the Pats find a way to make it work with Gilmore this season and then he will hit free agency. Having Gilmore makes the Pats a top-10 NFL defense and having him there helps their chances of getting back to the playoffs.
Wide Receivers Step Up
Pats fans know that the wide receiver position has not been a position of strength the past couple of seasons, and the retirement of Julian Edelman only made matters worse. Edelman was never a stud number one wide receiver, but he was great for the Pats and made many clutch plays. Losing him will hurt and someone will need to step up and try to fill that void. The Pats did not go out and trade for one, but they did add however go out and bring in some reinforcements through free agency.
They signed Nelson Agholor away from the Las Vegas Raiders and Kendrick Bourne from the San Francisco 49ers. Jakobi Myers was their best receiver in 2020 and finished with 59 receptions and 729 yards. Former first-round pick N’Keal Harry still has the potential to be a productive player, so this could be a make-or-break year for him to step up and shed the bust label. Gunner Olszewski was named an All-Pro as a punt returner and was targeted the most during a few practices.
Isaiah Zuber, Kristian Wilkerson, and rookie Tre Nixon will be others looking to make the roster come training camp. The good news for the Pats is that they drastically improved the tight end position in free agency with the signings of former Tennessee Titan TE Jonnu Smith and former Los Angeles Charger TE Hunter Henry. Those two will take some pressure off the wideouts and should help make the wide receiver unit better in 2021.
With all the new additions they have brought in, the Pats will enter training camp with a much-improved roster than they had at the end of 2020. Training camp will be here in about a month and soon we will know just how much.
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