Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Here are six takeaways from the Patriots’ OTA practice on Wednesday

By Vaseline May31,2024

Wednesday’s organized team activities session for the New England Patriots was open to the media. So outsiders got a second look at the team’s progress during spring training.

This time things were a little more competitive, but it’s important to keep in mind that the players are still practicing without pads. The process is still in its early stages and this is not a situation from which anyone should draw definitive conclusions about players.

That said, the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 sessions, along with the practice periods, provide a glimpse of the players’ potential on the field. This was a good day for the offense, with rookies and veterans making plays. Whether that also applies to training camp remains to be seen.

Here are six takeaways from Wednesday’s practice:

1. Less present

The attendance list was considerably longer this time due to the absence of players. Some of the more notable names on the list included Matthew Judon, Christian Barmore, Joe Milton III, Davon Godchaux, Jahlani Tavai and Josh Uche.

Receiver Kendrick Bourne and guard Cole Strange are clearly still working their way back from season-ending injuries. Judon also suffered a season-ending injury last year, but he is healthy and ready to go. Although he has chosen to skip voluntary OTAs, he did say he would attend the mandatory mini-camp.

2. New life for Tyquan Thornton?

There were a lot of people ready to close the door on wide receiver Thornton. I even did a piece with him that was mentioned as a possible surprise training camp for the Patriots.

However, if Wednesday’s performance at OTAs is any indication, Thornton’s run in New England may still have significant life left. The second-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft showed off his speed and made multiple plays after separating from defenders.

It was a strong performance from a player the Patriots have been patiently waiting for to break out. Perhaps the increasing pressure of a new regime and a much-improved wide receiving area will give him the extra motivation needed to take things to the next level.

As Evan Lazar of notes, Thornton’s ability to translate that same level of success to when the pads come on will be something to watch. If he is able to do that, the team could be in an even better spot offensively than initially expected.

3. Javon Baker had the best highlights of the day

Even after the 2024 NFL draft, there was concern that the Patriots don’t have a big playmaker at receiver. That conversation could prove premature with rookie fourth-round draft pick Javon Baker arriving.

The former UCF standout drew a lot of attention after telling Patriots fans to “bring you popcorn” when he was on the field. Wednesday’s practice was clearly a great day for popcorn, as Baker had the top two highlights.

One of the plays was a touchdown catch in double coverage, and the other occurred when he jumped over a defensive back for another incredible catch.

The Patriots are hopeful that Baker and Ja’Lynn Polk can find ways to help the team right out of the gate. They have worked hard to rebuild the receiving corps to the point where their quarterbacks actually have a chance to compete.

Baker potentially becoming a top threat would be huge for the Patriots in the coming years.

4. The quarterback competition hasn’t disappointed

It’s still very early in the process, but it appears the quarterback competition could be fierce by the time training camp rolls around.

Drake Maye had a strong workout on Wednesday. One play in particular was so good that it even drew a joke from veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Much of the talk about the Patriots’ offseason work centers on the third pick of the 2024 NFL draft. How good is Maye, but more importantly, how soon will he be ready to start at quarterback?

Not so fast.

Brissett was the most consistent quarterback on the field during practice. It makes sense given his experience at the pro level and running coordinator Alex Van Pelt’s offense. The transition seemed seamless for Brissett.

The quarterbacks on the field were Brissett, Maye and Bailey Zappe, while Joe Milton III was listed as the only absent player at the position.

5. Should more people talk about Alex Austin?

Alex Austin flew completely under the radar last season but emerged in a big way for the Patriots late in the year.

Austin, a former 2023 seventh-round draft pick for the Buffalo Bills, plays with a chip on his shoulder, and it shows every time he’s on the field. On Wednesday, he paid a lot of attention to Baker during a play and tapped a Zappe pass, which ultimately resulted in an interception for the defense.

The Patriots are establishing a strong young cornerback room with Austin, Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones. Shaun Wade even showed flashes of improvement last season. Of course, that goes without mentioning long-time veteran Jonathan Jones, who will obviously play an important role in the defense.

Austin is a spirited competitor who is willing to take on any challenge thrown his way. His further development in the coming months will be something to keep an eye on.

6. Special guests present

The Patriots had special guests in attendance at Wednesday’s practice, including former safety Patrick Chung, former running backs coach Ivan Fears and former outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick. Owner Robert Kraft was also at the training.

Belichick’s presence was notable as he left the team after receiving a residency offer from head coach Jerod Mayo. He eventually made the jump to college football by accepting a defensive coordinator position at the University of Washington.

Of course, he still has deep ties to the Patriots organization due to his time there with his father, Bill, and his brother, Brian, who still serves as an assistant coach on the staff. Fears and Chung are clearly life savers considering all their contributions to the football team.

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