FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots hosted the Carolina Panthers for the first of two joint training camp practices ahead of their preseason game on Friday.
It’s a tale of two worlds for teams who are in two different yet similar situations. On one side, you have second-year QB Mac Jones looking to develop and find consistency with two former NFL head coaches (Matt Patricia and Joe Judge) — both first-year offensive coordinators — in his ear calling plays.
On the other, you have a QB room (and Panthers HC Matt Rhule) that is in desperate need of a savior for this team, who are 10-23 in the past two seasons.
On Tuesday morning, there wasn’t any clear evidence of either side getting closer to their final destination.
Mac Jones still developing as quarterback and working to find consistency in his game
Recent reports out of Patriots camp have noted that Jones has been inconsistent at best. However, part of that may be attributed to him learning under two new offensive coordinators, who are also learning the position for the very first time.
And on Tuesday, that showed up. Jones looked sharp in joint individual drills, but as the practice script called for more pressure and complexity, it was a bag of mixed results. And in the first 11-on-11 period, Jones again looked sharp, hitting his receivers in stride and putting it where only the receivers can get it.
The pattern repeated itself, though, in the final 11-on-11 period when Jones led the Patriots down the field only to throw an interception near the end zone to end the drive.
This kind of inconsistent play is typical for a second-year quarterback, so there’s no need to get too high or too low, especially at this time of the year.
“He’s doing fine,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said before practice began. “He’s in his second year, he’s way ahead of where he was last year.”
The Patriots are hoping that Jones can accelerate his development by building rapport with his wide receiver group, including newcomer DeVante Parker, who spent his first seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
During Tuesday’s practice, we saw a glimpse of what might come during the regular season, and for those who watched Parker in Miami, it’s no surprise that it includes a “throw it up and let Parker catch it” type of mentality. Against the Panthers on Tuesday, he did just that, coming down with at least two nice grabs against tight coverage.
“It’s not a 50/50 jump ball. It’s an 80/20 for me,” Parker quipped after practice.
If Jones can trust himself to throw up the football and his receivers to catch it — as we saw numerous times during practice to different receivers — the Patriots’ offense will be set up for some big chunk plays throughout the season.
No clear leader between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold for the starting quarterback job
Leading up to joint practices, Rhule did not name a starting quarterback. And on the official depth chart heading into Friday’s preseason game, the Panthers did not list a definitive starter — only saying Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold.
That said, it’s expected that this week of practice and the game itself will play a major determining factor as to who gets the nod under center come Week 1 of the regular season.
On Tuesday, Mayfield received the lion’s share of snaps in 11-on-11 drills, with Darnold trailing behind. Still, neither one was able to definitively separate themself from each other.
In the last period during 11-on-11 work, Mayfield led the Panthers down to the 1-yard line but failed to punch it into the end zone. Darnold also led the team down into the red zone but threw an interception.
What is interesting to observe, though, is that Mayfield was much more willing to push the ball downfield, while Darnold was, for the most part, content checking it down and throwing it short.
Could those hints help provide a clue to where Rhule might be leaning with the regular season just under a month away? Maybe. Maybe not. Rhule said that today’s script called for Mayfield to get work with the starting unit, and tomorrow’s plan might be different.
“Baker’s learning a lot of what we are doing. Every day, it’s good for him in terms of learning. He got a couple of reps in the [first preseason] game — and this is invaluable in the amount of things we saw today. We saw a lot of different defenses — [the Patriots] are so good at what they do.”
Considering the Panthers traded for Mayfield with Darnold on the roster, it’d be a surprise — and a disappointment — if Mayfield wasn’t the starter come Week 1, which just so happens to be against the Cleveland Browns.
Emptying the Panthers-Patriots training camp notebook
- Panthers center Bradley Bozeman got his leg caught up in a drill and remained down on the ground for several minutes. Trainers tended to his left leg before Bozeman got up and walked to the sideline under his own power. However, he was carted off for further evaluation. No word on his injury at the time this was published.
- Fantasy football players might want to keep their eyes on Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton. He was targeted early and often by both Jones and Brian Hoyer, and he looked good. Thornton is part of a wide receiver corps that needs a big-time playmaker, with Parker, Jakobi Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne leading the group.
- There are questions about Panthers first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu and where he might fit on the offensive line. Due to team guidelines, we can’t talk about where he lined up and with what team. However, it does appear the coaching staff is making him earn his role in camp. It would be surprising if the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft wasn’t a starter come Week 1.
- Death, taxes, and fights at joint practices. The Panthers and Patriots mixed it up, with punches ultimately being thrown. Panthers CB Kenny Robinson and Patriots WRs Kristian Wilkerson and Kendrick Bourne were ejected from practice for being the main culprits in the fight. Minutes later, there was another skirmish — this time between Panthers DT Phil Hoskins and Patriots OL James Ferentz. Both were ejected from practice.
- Former Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was at practice, taking in the action on the field.