Instant observations from Day 3 of Patriots minicamp

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New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones smacked his hands to the ground after throwing the ball to safety Adrian Colbert.

It was a glaring mental error — and Jones’ final throw of spring practices. The Patriots offense was practicing a very specific situation. The offense got one play to set up the kicker, who would run onto the field — sometimes with the clock running and sometimes not — to try to get points on the board. Jones failed the test, in a way. He did the one thing he shouldn’t in that scenario: turn over the ball. That wiped away any chance the team had at getting points. It was, by definition, a rookie mistake. And one he’ll have weeks to think over as he prepares for training camp.

His practice was filled with ups and downs, but he was clearly outplayed by quarterback Cam Newton, who was as consistent as he’s been in the spring practices in front of the media. He looked very in control of the offense and acutely aware of how to function in each situational drill, working different parts of the field and managing the clock well. It was a starkly different day than Tuesday, when Jones outplayed Newton.

Here are our other observations from the final minicamp session and the Patriots’ final practice before training camp starts at the end of July.

Attendance

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Absent

CB Stephon Gilmore OLB Chase Winovich DT Byron Cowart OLB/TE Rashod Berry LB Terez Hall

Injured/Limited

The little details

The weather: Roughly 80 degrees with a beautiful blue sky. The pad level: Shorts and shells. Minicamp sessions are non-contact. The QB order in drills: Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer The competitive level: The practice started somewhat slow, in part because of the large volume of walkthroughs. Everything was, literally, at half speed. When the competitive drills rolled around, there was plenty of enthusiasm. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to be already thinking about training camp, with a prickly disposition at practice. You could sense he was ramping up expectations. He wanted improved execution at this point in spring practices. The best throw: If I had to pick -- and I do have to pick because of the lack of big plays -- then I'll take Stidham's 40-yarder to Devin Ross near the left sideline on a flag route. Ross and Stidham found a weak spot in the zone defense. Wow! On one play during 11-on-11 drills, outside linebacker Josh Uche descended on Jones so quickly that, if there would have been contact, it would've been an ugly sack for the quarterback. Uche is getting a lot of love from the media (myself included), but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let's see how he looks in the preseason before the hype train fires up to 100 miles per hour.

The biggest winner and loser

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Winner: It has to be Cam Newton. Everyone got a little too excited about Jones' impressive practice on Tuesday. He's still a rookie, who will undergo peaks and valleys in his early development. And Wednesday was a reminder that he won't always see the field clearly. Newton, meanwhile, had probably not been the best quarterback on the field during any OTA or minicamp session open to the media -- generally coming in second behind Stidham or Jones. But on Wednesday, Newton looked the best, by far. That's where he needs to pick things up in training camp in a month and a half. Loser: Isaiah Zuber looked like he was putting together a nice spring, but he had a rough stretch of plays during a 2-minute drill, in one case giving up on a route where Jones sailed the ball to where Zuber should have been. Then one play later, Zuber was open to convert a third down, but Jones' pass zipped right through the receiver's hands.

QB stats

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Quarterback stats are a dangerous piece of information in OTAs, minicamp and training camp, if only because they lack context. So hopefully, by reading all of my notes, you'll get some of that context. But I must give the people what they want! Here are the stats: Newton: 17-for-21 (14-for-17 in 11-on-11s) Jones: 11-for-20 (10-for-19) Stidham: 10-for-14 (9-for-12) Hoyer: 2-for-3 (2-for-3)

The top takeaway: The quarterback battle is so very far from over

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The Patriots will likely have a tough decision to make in a few months when they name their Week 1 starter. Stidham was probably the most consistent passer in minicamp, with Jones and Newton experiencing higher highs and lower lows. But it's important to remember that minicamp is conducted without contact, without much running, without much improvisation from quarterbacks and without much pressure from the defensive line. It's a faulty simulation. And if anything, it favors Jones' style of play as a pocket passer who likes to operate within a system -- and a clean pocket. Newton, meanwhile, is a good improviser and is most dangerous when he's a threat to run. So this minicamp environment doesn't exactly show what he can do. When those pads come on, we'll have a better sense of how far Jones has developed -- and how NFL-ready he is. I wouldn't be surprised if Jones loses some ground in the quarterback competition when there's contact (and a more realistic pass-rush). And -- oh yeah! -- Stidham has been very solid and deserves consideration, even if his snap count is limited compared to Newton and Jones.

Second takeaway: A group of young defenders have really caught my eye

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I gave Uche a shoutout in the "wow!" category in the little details. The speedy edge player looks like he's got a compelling skill set, which we saw only in glimpses last year. But then there are a few more young defenders who are really exciting to watch: defensive tackle Christian Barmore and safety Kyle Dugger. It's possible they will both be major contributors during the season, with Dugger looking like a Day 1 starter. He's done an admirable job jumping from Lenior-Rhyne and the DII level. If those three players shine (and perhaps Jones, too), they can reverse Bill Belichick's surprising trend of flunking the draft.

Third takeaway: Anyone seen Nelson Agholor? Or Hunter Henry?

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Agholor has had a very quiet spring, which is surely disappointing for the wideout who is slated to make at least $11 million per year over the next two years. My thought is that he's facing two problems in getting involved. First, Jones isn't at the point where he is taking many deep shots and Newton has never really proven himself as a deep-ball thrower in this offense. So Agholor's most obvious skill as a field-stretcher has gone largely unused. And then the intermediate routes aren't quite there yet for him, as those can take a while to stick for a receiver in such a complicated offense. Henry, meanwhile, didn't get a single target in team drills. He had a solid day on Tuesday, but hasn't flashed anything tremendous -- yet. It's not worrisome -- yet. The Patriots' ability to get those two acquisitions -- along with Jonnu Smith, who only managed to participate in part of the first practice before hurting his hamstring -- will be the second biggest storyline in training camp.

Now's when I clean out the notebook.

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Here are a few thoughts that cropped up during practice -- but they don't exactly deserve to be a full-on takeaway.

  • I'm impressed at how well Jakob Johnson is moving through warmup drills with the tight ends. Devin Asiasi, however, is at a whole different level. The slightest-framed tight end is very fleet of foot.

  • Gunner Olszewski is just an itchy guy. He's always moving, always talking. Even while waiting for his first rep in a walkthrough, his leg was bouncing. No music. He's just a dude who likes to move.

  • Rhamondre Stevenson didn't seem to know where to lineup before a play during a walkthrough, so Josh McDaniels bumped him in favor of James White. McDaniels, a little testy, forced them to come back into a huddle, not once but twice after he felt they broke too early. McDaniels wasn't pleased with a number of the reps during the walkthrough, forcing the offense to run the play again. McDaniels just had zero patience for mistakes. At one point, he approached Stidham with his hands up, perhaps indicating that the quarterback made the incorrect read on a play. As the OC walked away, he shook his head.

  • During punt-team work, Dont'a Hightower took a knee next to Matt Patricia to watch together. Patriots fans may have mixed feelings about Patricia, but Hightower clearly still gravitates to his former defensive coordinator.

  • Tight end and fullback Dalton Keene had an active day for ... maybe the first time ever. He looked comfortable moving around the formation and catching the ball. I logged him with three receptions, one from Newton and two from Jones.

  • Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers both look like they will be trustworthy members of the offense.

  • Defensive tackle Akeem Spence seems to be a player the Patriots trust a great deal. He was causing problems early and often in the interior of the offensive line on Wednesday.

  • James White is still good.

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