5 takeaways from 5 days of Patriots camp

Andy Hart
July 30, 2019 - 9:12 am
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FOXBORO -- In the long haul of the NFL season that runs now through February, five days of summer workouts is nothing, a tiny drop in the practice field Gatorade bucket.

That’s especially true given that three of the five days of work to opening Patriots training camp 2019 took place without shoulder, including one without Tom Brady.

Still, Tuesday’s first off day of camp for the players does create a natural landmark with which to recalibrate the early camp competition and the foundation upon which some long term storylines will play out for the defending Super Bowl champions over the course of the summer and early fall.

So, here are five top takeaways from the first five days of Patriots training camp.

N’Keal Harry has a lot of work to do – Watching the first-round wide receiver this week certainly conjured up old Bill Parcells’ quotes. At times Harry looked like a ball in tall grass – lost – as he earned the entire offense a lap by not knowing where to line up multiple times. Harry has struggled to get open and struggled to catch the football consistently. It’s still very early and his head is likely spinning as he tries to learn the offense, but if it doesn’t bite as a puppy…well, you know the rest. Harry doesn’t have the luxury of easing his way into life as a Patriots wide receiver. The team needs him to be a productive, accountable rookie option. He has a long way to go in a relatively short period of time if he’s going to get to that point.

There will be tough decisions to make in a deep secondary – There is little doubt that the Stephon Gilmore-led secondary should be the strength of the Patriots defense. But the talent and depth in the back end goes way beyond the All-Pro No. 1 cornerback. Both safety and corner seem to have more bodies than roster spots at this point. The addition of Terrance Brooks, who’s taken high-end reps throughout the first few days of camp, has some media types wondering if Duron Harmon could be a surprise cut candidate. Cornerback has Jonathan Jones battling recent second-round picks Duke Dawson and Joejuan Williams for slot/depth roles and roster spots. If ever there was an area where a trade from a position of surpolus could be a possibility, it’s the secondary. If not, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio may have some tough decisions to make in terms of cuts in the back end. Of course, that’s a pretty good “problem” to have in the pass-happy modern NFL.

Left tackle remains a major question mark – With 2018 top pick Isaiah Wynn yet to take reps in 11-on-11 action as he works back from last summer’s torn Achilles, the left tackle spot protecting Brady’s blindside lacks stability. Career left guard Joe Thuney has taken his turns and may be the most solid option, even though he’s not played the spot in the NFL. Late 2018 practice squad addition Dan Skipper certainly has the length for the spot and has taken reps with the top unit. The best-case scenario is probably still Wynn winning the job, but the longer he advances without practicing fully the less likely it becomes that he’s ready to be a full-time starter to open the season. He still needs to prove he can get on the field and then prove he can actually do the job.

Jerod Mayo appears poised to have a top role on defense – The first-year coach and former All-Pro linebacker Mayo has been the guy wearing a headset and calling in the defensive plays throughout the start to camp. While relaying scripted calls from a sheet isn’t nearly the same as actually calling defensive plays in hectic game action, is does appear that Mayo is the lead candidate to replace Brian Flores as the playcaller. But, Belichick has revealed that he plans to understandably spend more time with the defense this season, which could leave the door open for him to call defensive plays for the first time in New England since 2000. Regardless, Mayo brings a presence with him to his new job that seems to indicate a key role in the 2019 New England defense and a bright future as a coach.

The kicking game will include plenty of battles to watch this preseason – We know Ryan Allen is in a fight with strong-legged rookie Jake Bailey for the punting job. We know Nate Ebner, who opened camp on PUP, could be fighting for his roster life given the addition of Brooks and others. But the reality is that there are a ton of battles that will be waged over the next few weeks in the kicking game. The punt and kickoff return jobs appear to be wide open competitions with almost open tryouts. It’s hard to envision all the experienced, highly-paid cover guys like Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden, Brandon King, Ebner and Brooks all making the cut given the pressure they’ll feel from some new, younger, cheaper options. As roster projections play out in the coming weeks, the action in the third phase of the game could be critical in a number of areas.

Related: Patriots camp observations, Day 5: On the ‘soccer field’ inside Gillette