Patriots training camp, Day 8: QB Jones plays well as the offense works out the kinks

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FOXBORO — The Patriots were back in pads for Day 8 of training camp on Thursday and the offense appeared to take a step in the right direction. Although it was far from perfect, quarterback Mac Jones and his group did play a little better than what was seen in the past two weeks.

Jones started practice against the backup defense in 11-on-11s. These reps were never close to competitive with Jones completing 8-of-9 attempts with his only incomplete pass a drop by receiver Nelson Agholor. In competition against the starting defense in full-team drills, Jones connected on 6-of-10 passes.

The offense was running more smoothly but struggled at the end of practice in the red zone. The final period saw the offense run seven plays near the end zone. Two running plays featuring back Damien Harris and receiver Ty Montgomery were stuffed.

Jones’ first pass play was blown up by defensive tackle Davon Godchaux as the quarterback was chased out of the pocket. His next pass play fell incomplete when linebacker Anfernee Jennings chased him out of the pocket. Jones hit wide receiver Tre Nixon for a touchdown on the next play and should have had running back J.J. Taylor for a touchdown to end the drill, but Taylor dropped the pass in the end zone.

Jones finished 15-of-19 in 11-on-11s and went 3-of-3 in 7-on-7s. Of his incomplete passes, two were dropped (Agholor and Taylor), two were either thrown away or were affected by the pass rush and one was a miscommunication with tight end Jonnu Smith.

Jones has been accurate with his passes in training camp but the offense is clearly working its way through some of these new play installments.

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones looks to pass during a drill at the team's practice facility in Foxboro on July 30.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones looks to pass during a drill at the team's practice facility in Foxboro on July 30.

The defense deserves credit for the offense's struggles.  Linebacker Josh Uche and defensive lineman DeMarcus Mitchell notched sacks. Cornerback Shaun Wade had a pass breakup earlier in practice and Godchaux was a force in stopping the running game.

Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe struggled on Thursday, completing 1-of-5 passes in full-team drills and 5-of-5 in 7-on-7s. Backup Brian Hoyer returned to practice after missing time with an illness. He didn’t take any reps in 11-on-11s and went 2-of-4 in 7-on-7s.

With the players back in pads, 1-on-1 drills were increased. The practice started with tight ends taking on defensive backs. The three winners were Smith, defensive backs Kyle Dugger and newcomer Jalen Elliott. All three went 2-0 in the drill. Smith beat safety Joshuah Bledsoe and defensive back Brenden Schooler. Dugger bested tight ends Devin Asiasi and Hunter Henry. Elliott won against tight end Matt Sokol.

The receivers and cornerbacks had a competitive back-and-forth during their 1-on-1 drills. Receiver DeVante Parker continues to be tough to handle. He went 2-0 against Terrance Mitchell and Justin Bethel. Tre Nixon was the other receiver to go 2-0. He got the better of Myles Bryant on both reps. Receivers Nelson Agholor and Josh Hammond went 2-1.

At cornerback, Marcus Jones was the only member to go 2-0. One of those victories, however, was a drop by Meyers. Jones did get the better of Hammond. Cornerback Jonathan Jones looked great in this drill. He beat Meyers and Tyquan Thornton.

Tavai suffers apparent leg injury

It looked like the Patriots had their first big injury of training camp on Thursday.

Jahlani Tavai went down following a play during 11-on-11s. The linebacker looked like he was in pain and was on the ground for awhile, surrounded by teammates and the medical staff. It appeared as those the trainers were focused on his right leg while he was down.

Tavai was helped out by two members of the training staff and needed help from both to get to the blue medical tent.

Tavai played 13 games for the Patriots last season, making 14 tackles. He's been used as a backup middle linebacker and core special-teamer in training camp. Head coach Bill Belichick had good things to say about Tavai in an interview with Sirius XM this week.

“I think he’ll be a big factor for us this year, on all four downs — not just defensively but also in the kicking game,” Belichick said.

Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Adrian Phillips celebrate a defensive stop of the Falcons during the game on Nov. 18 in Atlanta.
Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Adrian Phillips celebrate a defensive stop of the Falcons during the game on Nov. 18 in Atlanta.

Judon misses first day of camp

The Patriots were missing linebacker Matthew Judon on Thursday. This marks the Pro Bowlers first absence in training camp. He was missing along with tight end Dalton Keene. The Pats are still missing running back James White (physically unable to perform list) and offensive linemen Chasen Hines (non-football injury list) and Andrew Stueber (NFI list).

Defensive lineman Deatrich Wise and running back Rhamondre Stevenson looked limited on Thursday. Wise didn’t participate in most of practice while Stevenson returned some kicks.

The Pats saw five players return to practice with safety Devin McCourty, defensive backs Jabrill Peppers and Malcolm Butler, Hoyer and receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey back. Peppers is still limited.

Patriots return to camp on Friday for their annual in-stadium practice. This is held for season ticket holders and Foxboro residents. Practice is to start around 7 p.m.

Thornton: Troy Brown is a 'true definition of a dog'

Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton doesn’t have to look far for advice. The Patriots second-round pick is being coached by Troy Brown, whose photos line the walls inside Gillette Stadium. Thornton said he’s watched film on his coach and is impressed by the Patriots Hall of Famer.

Thornton has had a good training camp with the Patriots. The rookie has been improving and says it’s easy to stay motivated when your coach is a legend.

“It’s motivation, getting coached up by him," Thornton said. "You can go on YouTube and see the film. He used to put fear in guys’ hearts out there. He reminds us. Us as receivers, we have that mindset going out on the field every day saying that we’re going to dominate.”

Brown became a running backs and kick returners coach in 2020. Last year, he moved to receivers as well as returners. Considering Brown was a standout receiver, returner and then cornerback for the Patriots, the coach has maintained an outstanding reputation among his players.

“His history speaks for itself,” Thornton said. “He’s a dog. He’s probably the only person I know that played the wideout position, the star [slot cornerback] position. Going on defense. Going to block punts. Doing that — that’s the true definition of a dog.”

Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers makes a catch as coach Troy Brown observes during a practice in October.
Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers makes a catch as coach Troy Brown observes during a practice in October.

Patriots break out the 'slip-n-slide'

The hottest day of camp brought out a fun tradition on Day 8 of Patriots training camp.

On Thursday, the annual slip-and-slide antics were applied before the day’s practice officially began. This drill saw Mac Jones roll a football onto a patch of grass that had been soaked during the morning. Each rookie had to dive for the ball on the patch, which acted like a Slip N-Slide while the rookie was sprayed by a hose held by veteran Matthew Slater.

After rookies dove for the "fumble," new Patriots staff members — coaches and training staff — took turns as well. On a day when there was a heat advisory, players said it was a fun start to training camp.

"The slip-and-slide? Pretty good," said rookie offensive lineman Cole Strange. "I feel like I practiced better today. Maybe we should do it more often. ... Slater had the hose and was spraying us in the face. They were spraying [the ground] for 10 minutes before practice so it was like a fumble recovery thing where we were supposed to grab it.

"The thing is, once Mac threw it on the ground, Slater would aim it at the ball so you'd dive and miss and he'd get an extra five seconds of spraying your whole body. It was fun."

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Patriots QB Mac Jones has a good day as offense plays catchup