Instant takeaways from Patriots’ 9th OTA session: Jarrett Stidham wins in Cam Newton’s absence

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When quarterback Cam Newton suffered a hand injury during the New England Patriots’ organized team activities last week, Mac Jones seemed to be getting a golden opportunity. But during Thursday’s session on Day 9 of OTAs, it was Jarrett Stidham — not Jones — who rose to the occasion with Newton not present.

Jones watched for most of the team’s competitive 11-on-11 reps during practice, getting fewer chances than Stidham and Brian Hoyer. While Hoyer and Stidham began to push the ball downfield with aggressive, vertical passing, Jones remained conservative with check downs. He also took a sack, one of many signals he was still very much learning the offense — and learning to read a speedy and complicated NFL defense, which featured Dont’a Hightower for his first session of voluntary offseason work.

We’ll have more on the quarterbacks — and other position groups — in today’s practice notes.

Attendance

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Absent

QB Cam Newton RB Brandon Bolden RB Sony Michel WR Nelson Agholor WR Devin Smith TE Jonnu Smith LT Isaiah Wynn DT Lawrence Guy DT Byron Cowart LB Terez Hall OLB Ra’Shod Berry CB Stephon Gilmore K Nick Folk

Limited

LB Anfernee Jennings LB Cameron McGrone

Injured

Tight end Hunter Henry appeared to injure his left lower leg during 7-on-7 drills. He seemed to tangle legs with safety Adrian Colbert. Henry worked with a trainer and didn’t go back into competitive drills. He did, however, return for field goal work as a blocker. Running back Damien Harris left practice early, though he did not appear to suffer an injury.

The little details

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The weather: Roughly 70 degrees. Blue skies and strong sun. The pad level: Shorts and shells. All OTA sessions are non-contact. The competitive level: This session was more mellow than last week, when the defense was extremely vocal. The offense got the better of the defense on a number of plays -- but without Newton on the field, the celebrations weren't exactly wild. The sternest moment: Henry's injury felt understated, with the tight end (and major free-agent signing) looking pained as he left the field during a rep of competitive 7-on-7s. No one but a trainer took note of Henry. A leg injury is always scary -- but it seemed like he was OK. The winner: Dont'a Hightower was absolutely flying around the field at what seemed to be a lighter weight. He spent 2020 as a COVID-19 opt-out. He looked nimble in his return. Let's see if he picks up weight over the next few months or whether the Patriots decide to keep him light. The loser(s): Jones simply doesn't look like he's on the same level. That's to be expected for a rookie when in competition against a three-year veteran (Stidham) and a 12-year veteran (Hoyer). But if Jones doesn't show signs of faster development, he might find himself getting buried on the depth chart.

Major takeaway: Jarrett Stidham is clearly the biggest beneficiary of the Newton's injury

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Stidham kicked off the first round of competitive 11-on-11 drills with completions to Kristian Wilkerson, Devin Asiasi and Troy Fumagalli. He was dialed for almost all of practice, with an opportunity to show off all the zip he can put on the ball. He and Hoyer were both putting on a show during practice. We discussed Stidham last week. He stepped up in relief on Newton after the injury in practice. And perhaps he's been doing more of that in the three sessions since that injury. Certainly, he showed a competence that was above Jones -- and probably above Hoyer, too.

Second takeaway: This linebacker group is extremely deep and versatile

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Van Noy looked at ease back in the middle of the Patriots defense, yelling out pre-snap assignments to the rest of the defense. He remained one of the best communicators on that side of the ball, even after a year away. Josh Uche was a workhorse, firing into the backfield (even when he probably should be working at half speed). And then there was Matthew Judon, who continued to look comfortable in New England's system. He and Hightower chatted between snaps. Hightower, who is not much of a yeller, has a gentle and understated affinity for leadership. You have to watch closely to see how he impacts his teammates. But he's clearly making a difference. It was a good practice for the linebackers, which served as a reminder that they will likely be one of the best groups in the NFL this year.

Third takeaway: Bill Belichick's left-hand man

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Matt Patricia is Belichick's right-hand man at practice. Or, if you want to be literal, left-hand man. They spent a long portion of the special teams drills chatting from behind the punting team. We probably won't know Patricia's official title this season. But Belichick clearly values his opinion in a big way. They are working closely on the field -- and probably off it.

Other notes

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

  • Gunner Olsewski generated excellent separation from defensive back Justin Bethel, which drew help from safety Devin McCourty. Neither defensive back could get to Olszewski, who created one of the longest completions of the practice.

  • Receiver Isaiah Zuber managed to take the lid off the defense during competitive 7-on-7 drills. He burned his defender and hauled in a long pass from Brian Hoyer. The veteran quarterback had a nice session, hitting receiver Kendrick Bourne for a big pickup on the sideline two plays later. In between those reps, Jakobi Meyers couldn't haul in an off-target throw on the sideline.

  • When Stidham jumped in, Bourne dropped short sideline target. A few plays later, Stidham fired the ball deep downfield to Wilkerson for a 40-yard pass to Wilkerson, who beat Mills for a jump ball. The defensive back clearly lost the ball in the air. Stidham continued to zip the ball with impressive velocity.

  • Hoyer threw an absolute dime to tight end Devin Asiasi, dropping the ball in a tiny window for 50 yards

  • There were definitely some snaps in the competitive drills where the defense had a clamp on the receivers, but this session was quickly and clearly a better practice for the passing offense. Jakobi Meyers didn't make a big play but remains one of the Patriots' more consistent players. N'Keal Harry, however, didn't make his mark.

  • Mills got toasted on at least one deep throw, but had a pair of pass breakups.

  • Kyle Dugger, J.J. Taylor and Marvin Hall were back to receive kickoffs.

  • Gunner Olszewski, J.J. Taylor, Marvin Hall, Kendrick Bourne, Tre Nixon and Jakobi Meyers were back to return punts.

  • Cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills didn't work on punt team, and they kept busy by working on defending receiver releases with a coach.

  • It was a very long period for special teams work

  • Joe Cardona hit a field goal of 45 yards. Yes, the long snapper.

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