5. How does Rookie WR Tyquan Thornton handle physical coverage?
Since the day the Patriots drafted it, Thornton’s lightweight frame and the way he handled physical coverage has been a question mark, and the same can be said for the mini Trey Nixon. Thornton sure has some juice and can shoot it off the line from a blast velocity and short area perspective. But the fast driver will see his fair share of physical coverage, even just for his testing against the press, when the pads last this week. Bates might keep Thornton out of the press coverage by having him run the tracks out of the hole.
6. Is the door still open for others to come out of the outer corner?
A promising development since the first week of camp is that Galen Mills and Terrence Mitchell are dispelling fears in the outer corner. In the early stages, Mills looked great. He played ball, forced receivers to make tricky pickups in his coverage, and seemed to be in control of the cruise control now in the New England system. On the other hand, Mitchell could give Bates something similar to what Mills did last year: a consistent veteran with good instincts and a high IQ. For now, this will do the trick. The next step is to see more of the novice Jack Jones in the pads. Jones hasn’t looked out of place this spring and summer, which is promising. We’ll give it a pass as it removes the rust, but it was an up and down start for Malcolm Butler’s camp.
7. Bates Linebacker Rickwon Macmillan Expected to Play a Big Role
If you had the opportunity to visit the training camp in the first four days, you likely saw the number 46 in blue in the middle of the upper defensive unit. Macmillan, who has earned praise from coach Bill Belichick for his high IQ and work ethic, is expected to be the early favorite to start the full-back this season. The quarterback Pats has great instincts and can hold up in early coverage while also having a style on the slopes that New England craves. We’re also seeing Mac Wilson’s commercial acquisition covered quite a bit, and sophomore quarterback Cameron McGrone continues to add things to his page. These three and veteran Ja’Whun Bentley will be vying for picks at the quarterback this season.
8. A fight in a corner hole behind injured Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones (PUP list) and backup (non-football related injury list) aren’t training in the top corner of the hole yet, so that opened the door for others to show coaches what they can do in the hole. Year two cornerbacks Shaun Wade and rookie Marcus Jones each had their chances, with Jones catching the eye here. With a potential role as a returnee on the horizon as well, Jones is quickly adapting to the professional game. It will be interesting to see how the younger Jones competes when fitness increases this week. The breakup of Jones’ pass in Saturday’s practice final play, a speed reserved for Jacoby Myers, was the type of play that stands out in the inner corners.
9. Bates Linebacker Anfernee Jennings Worth Watching
Entering his third season with the Patriots, the 2020 third-round pick was somewhat an afterthought in the summer. However, Jennings is no longer on that list as a three-play sequence saw him disrupt the quarterback on back-to-back reps in Saturday’s training. Jennings’ explosive power came off the ball, a hallmark of his game, along with good height before injuries hampered his development in Alabama. Jennings is also carving out a special team role. With a void to be filled by the opposite of Matthew Goodon, Jennings could surprise some people.
10. Building defensive line depth
It is easy to predict the top of the depth chart for New England along the defensive line, but some points are shown for filling in depth. Although it’s hard to judge defensive line guys in unpadded drills, two starters, Labrian Ray and sixth-round pick Sam Roberts, have NFL tires and look like players you want to stop running in full podiums.