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Letters from Patriots Camp 2022: Volume 2

--I'm currently reading a book about the old Oakland Raiders of the 1970s. I'm not getting paid to endorse it, but what the hell. It's called "Badasses" and it tells the tale of John Madden's iconic teams and the unhinged, Borderline Personality Disorder players that gave the NFL some of it's great moments on and off the field. And one thing struck me today at Day 3 of Patriots camp was how Madden used to set up his practices so that they would feature either the offense or defense. Like if a defender made a great, aggressive play, the offensive veterans would tell him to knock it off, because today belonged to them, and the defense would get their shot the next. What the tinker's damn this has to do with this camp is that, whether it was by design or not, Day 2 definitely belonged to the defense, and today was a huge bounce back day for the offense. 

--Thursday in red zone reps, D made 10 consecutive stops. On the 11th try, which apparently was for all the marbles, Jones got it into the end zone. And because life is cruel in this harsh, unforgiving vale of tears we talk through, it was the defense who had to do the push ups. That's the sort of treatment that would have the Detroit media filing OSHA complaints on behalf of the players. But in Foxboro, that degrading Dickensian workout Belichick oversees, it's just another day at the office. 

--But today was a much better day for the offense. The focus was exclusively on the red zone, where Jones was 14-for-19. He threw his first pick of camp, on what looked like a miscommunication with Jakobi Meyers on an out route, which Jalen Mills promptly jumped and would've taken 100 yards if this wasn't a simulation. Another of Jones' incompletions was a short underneath throw to DeVante Parker that came out of his hands at the approximate speed Maverick used to get through that canyon undetected, and it bounced off Parker's hands. 

--But his best connections were with a very important piece of the 2022 puzzle, and that is Jonnu Smith. The best being a high-pointed ball at the back of the end zone in 7-on-7s. The 1B to that 1A being a back shoulder throw along the boundary that Smith needed make an adjustment on. And did. If we're being perfectly honest (and you can trust me; I'm not like all those other guys you've been with), Smith looked good last summer. But by mid-September he'd become that kid in the school play who can't remember his lines so the teacher makes him a tree or something so can't ruin the show. To be clear, they don't need him to be Travis Kelce. Just better than last year. Say, somewhere close to double the 334 total yards he gave them last year would be a triumph. But this day belonged to him. 

--It's notable that both of those catches came on Kyle Dugger, who also gave up a touchdown to Hunter Henry. To be fair, Dugger was also part of the unit that put zipties on the offense's wrists yesterday, and I don't want to be that guy who only notices a guy's faults. I'm all about the positivity of the moment. And maybe, possibly, bringing two tight ends to the Patriots two tight end offense for the first time since one half our TE duo went all Aaron Wayne Gacy on everyone. 

--Brian Hoyer didn't dress, probably getting a veteran day off, so we got extended looks at Bailey Zappe. Which is useful, not only to see what he'll bring going forward, but to give you perspective on just how good Mac Jones is. To be the "Not" to Jones' "Hot":

Zappe's a work in progress, so you have to grade on the curve. But he did get picked by Jalen Mills on a ball intended for Bourne, in which Mills totally had position and it should've been thrown away. He missed one that resulted in a near collision between Henry and Kristian Wilkerson. And another miss was picked off of Bourne's hip by Adrian Phillips. It will be interesting to clock his improvement going forward. But it also puts in perspective how dialed in and accurate McCorkle was last year while battling for reps with Cam Newton.

--Defensively, Wade and Marcus Jones are getting a lot of looks in the slot position that is very much Jonathan Jones' until he decides otherwise, but where depth is essential. On special teams, Marcus Jones and Tre Nixon are splitting reps as the punt returners, Tyquan Thornton is bringing his rocket sled speed outside at the gunner spot, so when the contact goes live we'll get to see if he can take the hits or his 182-pound frame is made of LEGOs like some draft pundits said. And one guy getting a long look on teams is Brenden Schooler, the 70s era tiny shorts aficionado who played teams, receiver and safety in college. If someone is going to keep this team's UDFA streak alive, he's got as good a shot as anyone. 

--One drill they ran for a while on the second field was guys practicing coming off the edge and diving to block kicks. The snap was simulated by a coach holding a green football on the end of a long stick. And it occurred to me that America can still manufacture poles with green footballs attached, but we no longer have Choco Tacos. 

--It's not all fun and games at camp. It's a job, I assure you:

--So far, it's impossible to watch these workouts and not notice the high energy level throughout. That reaction Mac Jones got is matched by the likes of Kendrick Bourne, Damien Harris, DeVante Parker and Matthew Judon bringing the crowd into it. Judon's game is to come in front of the stands and toss a football back and forth with people. Which he does in a red hoodie heavy enough that you could wear while scraping ice off your windshield, and would give the average human a coronary if they wore it in the hot sun in late July. But these guys seem to set the tone for the whole squad. There's no half speed. Zero asses being dragged. They make practicing things they've been doing most of their lives look like actual fun. 

--Which carried over to the end, when the whole roster formed two lines facing each other, like a frat about to run pledges through the Hot Over. But this drill was a competition between the offense and the defense, fielding punts while you have to hold onto all the ones you've already caught. Different guys rotated in and out. Tre Nixon fought rookie Marcus Jones to a draw. Then they were subbed in by Cole Strange and rookie DL DaMarcus Mitchell, which Strange won while the place went bananas. It looked like Strange tried to get Belichick in on the celebration, and was promptly choked with the Dark Side of the Force so he stopped. But don't quote me on that; I was 100 yards away. Anyway, it was a variation on the old tradition of having Vince Wilfork or some other portly gentleman catch a punt in order to give the whole team a day off. Stay tuned to see what Strange won for his side of the ball. But it can't help but get a new guy in the good graces of his teammates. 

--The weekend here is going to be nuts. And I expect to be back on Monday for full padded practice. But damn, this is fun.