There was a fight, standout plays by rookies and more promising signs from quarterback Mac Jones and the offense at Day 2 of the New England Patriots’ open OTAs practice.
This was only the second time the Patriots’ OTAs session was made public to the media.
During an earlier media conference, coach Bill Belichick noted the team would have a lighter practice day. So things were a bit slower than usual on the football field.
Of course, that still didn’t stop tempers from flaring with linebacker Anfernee Jennings and offensive guard Cole Strange getting into a scuffle that led to a punch being thrown by defensive tackle Christian Barmore.
Both Barmore and Strange were pulled from practice after the incident, but they were still allowed to stay on the field and watch from the sidelines. It was an eventful day for the Patriots, to say the least.
Here are five of the biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s practice:
Patriots might not have to wait long for Marte Mapu to make an impact
There’s a reason why coach Bill Belichick used a third-round draft pick on the relatively unknown Marte Mapu out of Sacramento State.
That reason was on full display on the practice field with the rookie playing free safety after working in with the linebackers last week. Mapu is a rare talent that has the versatility and physical make-up to play both positions on the fly.
— Mike Kadlick (@mikekadlick) June 6, 2023
He can move like a safety, but he also has the power of a Mack Truck when lowering the boom on ball carriers. His college tape is full of violent tackles and coverage plays that show off both his physical prowess and speed.
Even with a crowded defensive unit, Mapu could be a tough player to keep off the field.
The young receivers took center stage
With the Patriots’ top four receivers out of action, that left plenty of work for rookies and some of the other young players on the roster.
A video that captures one notable theme from Patriots OTA today: Sixth-round pick Demario Douglas is first through the WR drill — a notable opportunity for him and fellow rookie Kayshon Boutte with top 4 WRs not practicing. pic.twitter.com/4d9Fu6nNHs
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) June 6, 2023
Undrafted rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham was also back taking reps at receiver.
Cunningham could be trekking towards a similar path as Julian Edelman, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Patriots as a quarterback out of Kent State. His incredible athleticism was noticeable from the very beginning, and he ended up making the switch to receiver.
Atonio Mafi could see work at both guard positions
Rookie fifth-round draft pick Atonio Mafi saw plenty of work at both guard positions on the field. He initially started at right guard and moved over to left guard in practice.
Lot of reps for fifth-round rookie Atonio Mafi today. Saw him rotating in at right guard with Mike Onwenu out, then slotted in at left guard after Cole Strange was removed from practice for fighting.
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) June 6, 2023
It was a good practice that showed off Mafi’s versatility to work in multiple roles. His development will be fun to watch this season, especially with the impact it could potentially have on Michael Onwenu’s future in New England.
Onwenu is playing on an expiring contract, and the team might feel less competitive when it comes to re-signing him to a big contract, if Mafi is ready to step into the fold as a starter.
One thing is certain: The Patriots seemed hell-bent on seeing what they have in the rookie offensive lineman.
Christian Gonzalez comes as advertised
Patriots rookie first-round draft pick Christian Gonzalez was absent at last Wednesday’s practice. So Tuesday was the first time media members had an opportunity to see the former Oregon standout cornerback in action.
And he didn’t disappoint.
Gonzalez took reps with the first team defense and looked the part of a starting NFL defensive back. One of the more popular takes in April was that the Patriots got the biggest steal of the 2023 NFL draft by trading down and still having Gonzalez fall to them at No. 17 overall.
First time we saw Christian Gonzalez in action today. Main takeaway: He looks like a plug-and-play starter.
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) June 6, 2023
Time will tell if that’s ultimately the case, but Gonzalez is clearly off to a phenomenal start in New England.
Mac Jones' improved comfort level continues to show on the field
There’s finally a sense of normalcy when it comes to Mac Jones and the Patriots offense. It shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the team went out and hired an experienced offensive play-caller.
Bill O'Brien taking matters into his own hands, pressuring Mac Jones during an OTA drill pic.twitter.com/6em82SOwql
— The Camera Guys (@NBCSCameraGuys) June 6, 2023
Bill O’Brien has stepped in and made a difference right away. Many of the reports coming out of Wednesday’s OTAs practice notes Jones’ improved body language. He looks more confident on the field, and it genuinely looks like he’s having fun.
The hope is that it all translates into better quarterback play in the 2023 season. Sure, the team still needs a No. 1 weapon at receiver, but in its current state, the Patriots offense is built to compete in a crowded AFC East division.