FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick thoughts and notes all around the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Parker’s place: The red zone was a major focus for the first four days of training camp, and it quickly became clear that veteran receiver DeVante Parker plays a big part in the Patriots’ plans.
When field space gets tight, the catching radius of a 6-foot-3, 219-pound target like Parker stands out as quarterback Mac Jones assesses his options.
“Big body, can make a lot of plays, contested catches,” said tight end Hunter Henry. “It’s always nice to add a guy like that and take a little pressure off everyone else.”
One of the signature plays from the early stages of camp was a 7-on-7 drill that saw the ball spotted at the 10-yard line – Jones in the shotgun, Parker wide to his left.
When Jones released the ball as Parker crossed the goal line, the eight-year-old veteran was not open. Starting cornerback Jalen Mills, wearing gloves as part of a technique to avoid a grab, had him locked up.
But Jones delivered a perfect back-shoulder throw and Parker matched by tapping his feet along the left perimeter.
“Mac sees where the defender is. He puts it in a great place and I can get to it,” said Parker, who has run the NFL for the past five seasons (defined as less than 1 yard when the pass arrives), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
This is likely what Bill Belichick envisioned when the Patriots acquired Parker and a fifth-round pick from the Miami Dolphins in March in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick.
The Patriots may not have a clear No. 1 receiver, but pairing Parker with recurring top targets Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne — and second-round drafting speedster Tyquan Thornton (Baylor) — may give them some depth , different groups.
Parker essentially plans to take on the role of what the Patriots thought they were getting when they drafted N’Keal Harry at the end of the first round in 2019. Harry was traded to the Chicago Bears on July 12 for a seventh-place pick in 2023. Round pick (and Parker is now wearing his No. 1 jersey).
Parker, 29, has fueled the energy of the lively scene at training camp, where thousands have packed the stands and hills every day. After another tight window catch in the red zone, he pointed at the crowd and raised his arms in the air, prompting a roar from those in attendance.
“Great energy,” said Mills, the veteran cornerback who was often tasked with covering for him. “One likes to see that.”
2. Real Soccer: Monday is a big day for the Patriots — the first practice session in full pads. That’s the date that Belichick essentially referred to as the actual start of training camp. Defensive tackleDaph Godchaux said the players in his position “can’t do much” ahead of this point and he expects some jitters. Mills added: “That’s when we’re playing real football, seeing big boys in the trenches, hearing those pads smacking and us at the back end to compete with the receivers and disturb them a little bit.”
3. Take responsibility: Teammates are noticing a difference in Jones in his sophomore season, and longtime team leaders like Matthew Slater have said it’s only a matter of time before the team truly becomes his. “He’s definitely more confident than last year,” added Trent Brown in offensive tackle. Jones is usually one of the first players to come into practice each day, taking 15-20 minutes to loosen up and work on the fundamentals.
4. OT switch: Belichick downplayed the team’s offensive tackle flip in the spring — Brown on the left, Isaiah Wynn on the right — as nothing more than the norm for building versatility down the line. But that’s how it was at the start of training camp and it seems to have more of a lasting feel, especially when Brown said he was on the left: “It feels like home.”
5. Corner problems? A key question arises at the cornerback across from Mills, where veteran Terrance Mitchell was given his first camping opportunity and Belichick praised his instincts. The Patriots are the sixth team Mitchell, 30, has worked with in his nine-year career. Then there’s Malcolm Butler, 32, who admitted he’s “getting into shape” while feeling he’s already torn the griddle after not playing in 2021. They were the top two options ahead of rookie Jack Jones (round four, Arizona State).
6. Stevenson’s Change: Running back Rhamondre Stevenson reported to training camp at 225 pounds, which he says was seven pounds lighter than last year. But it’s not just the number, it’s the type of weight he’s carrying. “I think I’ve gotten a lot leaner and feel better overall,” he said. It shows Stevenson looking fluid as a space pass catcher, which was one of his off-season goals. The result is that Stevenson gives himself a chance to stay on the field in the “back pass” role.
Video: Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson who said he weighed 225 pounds (7 pounds down from last year) when he was slimmer in 2022. pic.twitter.com/q8k1SOyTvd
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) July 28, 2022
7. Simple = success? If there was one common thread listening to the Patriots’ offensive players after the first few practice sessions, it was their optimism about changes to streamline the offense. Stevenson, for example, said it was “simpler, easier to learn and quicker to play”. Brown and Bourne were among those who echoed those thoughts, with Mac Jones saying, “We do a lot of good things, schematically, to get up there and snatch the ball a lot quicker.”
8. Uches “Breakout”: Brown is predicting a “breakout year” for linebacker Josh Uche, the 2020 second-round pick who played just three snaps (without a kneel) in last season’s playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills but showed signs of a disruptive pass -To be rusher when healthy. Uche was best in Michigan when his weight was 230, and it looks like he’s back in that range now, despite being listed at 245. Uche is moving well in the early days of camp when he was asked to cover running backs at the condo.
9. Tight Coverage: The Patriots’ defense isn’t the only group offering close coverage; Around 200 media passes were issued by the team for the training camp over the first four days, a reflection of how many reporters, cameramen, etc. were present each day.
10. Did you know? The Patriots ranked 11th in red zone offense last season with a 61.9 touchdown percentage (63 trips, 39 TDs). AFC East champion Bills ranked eighth in the league with 77 trips and 48 touchdowns (62.3%).
https://www.espn.com/blog/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4825689/patriots-wr-devante-parker-solidifying-role-with-big-plays-contested-grabs New England Patriots WR DeVante Parker solidifying role with big plays, contested grabs – New England Patriots Blog