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Patriots training camp Day 7: Mac Jones’ best practice yet, a rising linebacker and more WR woes

FOXBORO — Mac Jones’ best practice of training camp started with a near pick.

After hitting three straight completions to open a 7-on-7 period, Jones lofted his final throw near the right sideline where JuJu Smith-Schuster was supposed to finish his deep corner route. There was one problem.

Young cornerback Marcus Jones had drifted backwards from his short zone drop to camp under the ball and intercept it. Recognizing the danger at hand, Smith-Schuster used his six-inch height advantage to break up the pass upon its arrival. Jones then retreated to the sideline — and leveled up.

Jones finished his day going 7-of-10 in team drills, scoring two touchdowns in a final red-zone period versus Bill Belichick’s top defense. He weaponized tempo, audibles and his best trait — accuracy within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage — over the best showing by any quarterback this summer. None of Jones’ individual plays were true highlights, but training camp, particularly in its infant stages with a new offense and top targets, is about progress, not perfection.

In that sense, Tuesday’s practice — while lighter and shorter than most so far — got the job done.

Elsewhere, Trent Brown received another rest day, the running backs returned to full strength, an overlooked linebacker thrust himself into the spotlight and no one is more instinctive in coverage than Jack Jones.

Here are the Herald’s complete practice observations:

Attendance

Returned: OL Jake Andrews

Absent: RB/WR Ty Montgomery, WR Jalen Hurd, LB Terez Hall, DB Brad Hawkins, OL Chasen Hines

Limited: OT Trent Brown, OL Cole Strange, TE Scotty Washington

Non-contact jersey: LB/S Marte Mapu

PUP: OL Mike Onwenu

Non-Football Illness: OL Calvin Anderson

Patriots’ O-line already dealing with injuries, load management early in training camp

Notes: Brown was a non-participant for a second straight day, heading down to a lower field for conditioning work with Washington while the rest of the team engaged in positional drills and walk-through team periods. Strange was present, but did not wear a helmet, stretch or participate. He sustained an apparent left leg injury in Monday’s practice, the team’s first padded session of the summer. Hurd and Hines were injured Monday.

Play of the Day

DeVante Parker’s twirling grab

As a contested-catch specialist reliant on 50/50 balls, Parker’s game tends to boom or bust. On Monday, he busted by failing to earn a single target in team periods. On Tuesday, though?

Big boom.

Parker beat first-round rookie Christian Gonzalez for a 20-yard catch down the left sideline on the opening snap of 11-on-11s. Mac Jones took a short drop and fired immediately at Parker, who had gunned straight downfield and timed his jump perfectly. High-pointing the ball with both hands, he spun 180 degrees, tapped both feet inbounds and tipped over into the defense’s sideline.

Silence rang out around him. Parker had made the catch.

Player of the Day

LB Mack Wilson

One of the more overlooked storylines of training camp to date has featured Wilson, a young linebacker who reportedly intended to leave New England after a disappointing debut season last year. Perhaps it’s good he changed his mind.

Wilson has been rotating in with the starting defense every practice and broke up a pair of passes Tuesday. His first was a full-extension denial made while falling back that stopped a long pass intended for Mike Gesicki. The play exemplified his rare athleticism. On the second, Wilson caught up to rookie receiver Kayshone Boutte and batted away a Zappe throw over the middle during tight red-zone work.

QB Corner

Note: The passing stats below were tallied during competitive 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods only. The stats in parentheses represent the quarterbacks’ camp-long performance.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) warms up with some throws as the Patriots take practice at Gillette on August 1, 2023 in , Foxboro, MA. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) warms up with some throws as the Patriots take practice at Gillette on August 1, 2023 in , Foxboro, MA. (Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

Mac Jones: 10/14 (43/74, 2 INTs)

Bailey Zappe: 8/13 (40/69, INT)

Trace McSorley: 6/8, INT (26/46, INT)

Studs

TE Hunter Henry

Henry is rapidly proving himself to be Jones’ go-to guy again. He caught a red-zone touchdown on the starting offense’s final snap of 11-on-11s, and secured all three targets he saw during team drills.

CB Jack Jones

The second-year corner remains one of the most instinctive players on Belichick’s defense. He registered one of five pass breakups on the day by leaving his receiver less than two seconds after the snap — despite the fact the receiver had been in motion — to deny a Mac Jones touchdown pass to DeVante Parker. Without his recognition and interruption, Parker would’ve had a wide-open score.

Duds

Run-blocking

In a non-padded practice when the majority of starters are sidelined and linemen aren’t seriously evaluated by the coaching staff, it’s hard to place blame on the offensive line.

But perhaps there should be an exception. The Pats’ first three hand-offs of 11-on-11s resulted in would-be run stuffs. The first two were stopped well behind the line of scrimmage, and most rushing plays went nowhere. Wednesday’s practice, expected to be in full pads, should offer much better insight, but Tuesday’s tape still on’t find any highlight reels.

QB Bailey Zappe

The second-year backup took four sacks in team drills and finished 0-for-2 inside the red zone with one sack. Half of his four completions in 11-on-11s were screens.

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