5 Things to Look For in Training with the Patriots-Panthers

5 Things to Look For in Training with the Patriots-Panthers

After a dozen Training Camp practices pitting teammates against each other, the Patriots will host the Carolina Panthers for back-to-back days of joint practices before Friday night’s second preseason game.

The Patriots and Panthers will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday in sessions that will be open to the public, and those practices will bring out an intensity that we have not yet seen in camp.

Speaking to reporters last week, head coach Bill Belichick referred to upcoming practices with Carolina and next week against the Las Vegas Raiders as “competitive” practices of the summer. In preparation for two physical days, the Pats were in shorts and shells on Monday morning, which indicated that the team will put in a lot in the next two days.

Although Monday’s practice was lighter in terms of contact, the Patriots are dialing up the creativity, especially on offense. After weeks of basic setup, we’re starting to see some personnel groupings, more movement and window dressing, and plays involving post-snap decisions from the quarterback, such as pass-run options.

It is the perfect time for the Patriots to really get into the type of offense they will see when the games start counting down from the Panthers bringing a great defensive test to Gillette Stadium.

Despite a lingering injury to first-round pick Jaycee Horn, Carolina’s defense finished 15th in Defensive Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and seventh in quarterback pressure rate last season. In their matchup Week 9 years ago, the Panthers defense held Mac Jones and the Patriots to 24 points and just 273 yards of total offense.

As the Patriots offensive line continues to work through growing pains with new players in various spots and a tweaked system, the Panthers defensive front is as good a test as New England will face in the 2022 season.

During the first 12 practices of Training Camp, the Patriots starting offense has had problems at times with unblocked or free runners at the quarterback and the multiple pressures Bill Belichick’s defense looks at them in any given practice session.

“A lot of it is just figuring out the scheme and making sure that no guys are free. That’s the main thing for me: as long as no one is free, I should be able to make the throws,” quarterback Mac Jones told Patriots.com last week.

“It’s down to the communication. It’s different from what we’ve done in the past, so figure that out and try to look at it together. It’s a little frustrating at times, but our line is offensively – the actual players and coaches – they’re trying their best.”

In addition to having talented pass rushers, Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow is a noted zone blitzer, ranking third in blitz percentage in 2021. Snow likes to create defensive issues with “mugged” linebackers in the A Gaps and related to the engine in the blitz package and players on the line of scrimmage drop into coverage. In some ways, it is similar to what the second and third string Patriots faced last Thursday night against Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.

The Panthers also feature a productive four-man pass rush. But before we get into the individual games for the Patriots this week, Carolina’s defensive system will test New England’s hand-to-hand communication along the offensive line.

“It is not acceptable. As a quarterback, I can not imagine that feeling,” said the center David Andrews of the rushers unblocked by New England quarterbacks. “We have to be better. We all have to be better. We all have to be connected in whether it’s the [running] backs, him [Mac Jones], us [the offensive line] . an offense for a successful play.”

If the Patriots offensive line can keep the quarterbacks clean and the offense running on time against Carolina’s blitz-happy defense, it’s a huge step forward for a group that’s still figuring things out.

Here are five games to watch when the Patriots host the Panthers for joint practice this week:

1. Patriots Offensive Line vs Panthers Defensive Front

Sticking with the same theme as above, there are two individual matchups we’ll be keeping an eye on in the trenches with the Pats O-Line and Panthers defensive front.

First, the right tackle situation in New England is developing daily due to the uncertain status of prospective starter Isaiah Wynn and a visible battle to back Wynn up. With Wynn performing recently, Justin Herron and 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste have had opportunities with the main unit over the past week. Herron, who was limited on Monday, may have opened the door for Cajuste with his struggles, including two false start penalties in the preseason opener against the Giants. Cajuste has some high upside moments where he excels with excellent footwork and athleticism but is still too inconsistent. Depending on who is healthy enough to practice, a big test is coming in Carolina’s Brian Burns. Burns’ speed and bend are elite attributes to turn a tight corner. If Cajuste stands up to Burns, he could steal the job from Wynn and Herron.

In addition to the offensive tackle position, Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown presents an interesting battle for first-round pick Cole Strange. Strange had a successful start to the season where his blocking and ability to sniff out stunt schemes was impressive. To top that off, we’ll see how Strange handles one of the most powerful DTs in the game in Brown. The Auburn product has a bit of Vince Wilfork to his game as an immovable against the run who can collapse the pocket in passing situations. He’s had strange problems at times this summer with power rushers, so evaluating him against Brown will be a good insight into his progress.

2. Patriots Wide Receivers vs Panthers Long, Athletic Corner

Speaking to reporters before Monday’s practice, Patriots wide receivers coach Ross Douglas showed off New England’s length and athleticism this week against Carolina’s secondary. With Horn practicing after a foot injury last season, the 6-foot-1 South Carolina product is joined by CJ Henderson (6-1) and Donte Jackson (5-11) to form a front three that gives more far for the table than the Pats receivers advance with their own defense or the Giants. Douglas also mentioned safety Jeremy Chinn as a coverage player, who is 6-foot-3.

The Panthers are big in zone and blitz-zone coverage, but Patriots second round pick Tyquan Thornton will still see his fair share of physical coverage and long athletes. Thornton’s playmaking strength and ability to fight through contact were evident in his first taste of NFL action. But this group of corners will challenge him even more in that regard. Along with Thornton, it will be interesting to see how roster hopefuls like Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon, and Lil’Jordan Humphrey separate. Overall, this is with a good Panthers pass defense, so any consistency moving the ball through the air is a plus for the Patriots.

3. How the Patriots Secondary Matches Up Against D.J. Moore and Company?

While there is no game planning for joint practices, we will get our first look at how the Patriots will handle two legitimate outside threats in Panthers wide receivers D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson. The latter was rumored to be a trade target for the Patriots last season before they acquired DeVante Parker.

Recently, the Patriots defensive front tried a different look than we saw earlier in camp. With veteran Jalen Mills steadily on one side, Jonathan Jones has kicked outside and third-round pick Marcus Jones has teamed up in the slot. The elder Jones gets reps at outside cornerback every summer as the Patriots prepare for every situation. But the emergence of the third-round rookie could be a result of Belichick putting his top three cover guys on the field regardless of size or ideal alignment moving Jon Jones outside. As for the Panthers, in recent seasons without a true number one corner, we saw Belichick bracket or double the opponent’s top receiver and trust his de facto top corner to take the opponent’s number two on an island. Will the Pats use two defenders to cover Moore or Anderson? Or trust their guys to play man coverage against Carolina’s best pass-catching duo? Hopefully we’ll get some hints as to how they’ll handle things during the regular season.

4. Cover Patriots Linebackers vs. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey

In his usual pregame interview on 98.5 the Sports Hub last Thursday night, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick seemed pleased with the team’s improved athleticism at linebacker. In particular, Belichick cited the “coverage flexibility” that trade acquisition Mack Wilson and 2021 fifth-round pick Cameron McGrone could provide the Pats’ defense this offseason.

The Panthers manage the workload for star running back Christian McCaffrey, but McCaffrey is arguably the most explosive passer in the league. Covering the 2019 All-Pro is a significant challenge for any pure linebacker. Belichick could deploy one of his cover defenses on McCaffrey if this were a game situation. Still, it will be good to see Wilson, McGrone, and Raekwon McMillan in space against McCaffrey. Additionally, we could try New England in the secondary to get McCaffrey a safety in some situations. Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger continue to be huge parts of the Pats defense, and free agent addition Jabrill Peppers has been working more with the upper unit as of late (he had an interception during team drills Monday). The Patriots have excellent depth at safety, especially at box or nickel safety in Patrick Chung’s role, so we’ll take notes on how they deploy that group against Carolina this week.

5. Patriots Young Edge Rushers vs. Panthers OTs Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Moton

As an offensive line nerd, it will be fun to see the sixth overall pick from last year’s draft. Ekwonu enters the league as one of the best athletes along the offensive line. At 280-plus pounds, the NC State star anchors his high school track team and is also a former wrestler. His wrestling background shows up with his arm wrestling and the ability to create power through his upper body to plant defenders into the dirt. Ekwonu is a special talent.

As the Panthers rebuild their offensive line, cornerback Moton isn’t slowing down either. The Patriots are hoping one of their young edge rushers will step up against Pro Bowler Matt Judon and take the place of departed vet Kyle Van Noy. Currently, the leader in the clubhouse is 2020 third-round pick Anfernee Jennings. Jennings posted solid tape against the run and as a pass rusher in the preseason opener, and also stood out in team snaps during practice. Fellow third-year EDGE Josh Uche is still in the mix as a positional pass rusher, but we’re waiting to see the light on 2021 third-rounder Ronnie Perkins. With the instructional period winding down to competitive practices, now is the time to work out the depth chart behind Judon.

Who is number 21 on the Patriots?

Who is number 21 on the Patriots?
No. 21 – New England Patriots
Weight:210 lbs (95 kg)
Career information
Secondary school:Garland (Garland, Texas)
College:Texas

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