10 players to watch at Patriots second open OTA


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Football is back in business on the practice fields outside of Gillette Stadium, which means internet reactions and overreactions are back as well.

As soon as the Patriots finished their first open session last week and reports came flying in, excitement spread around the New England-area like wildfire about rookies, sophomores, and veterans alike. But let's stay calm - it was only one practice.

Luckily, they'll get to build on this momentum in front of the media again on Tuesday. As Bill Belichick always says, "it’s about the players," so here are ten I'll have my eye on down in Foxborough:

10 - WR Ed Lee

After making the retirement of Devin McCourty official and cutting ties with Justus Tavai, the Patriots quickly filled one of their open roster spots on Monday, signing undrafted rookie wide receiver Ed Lee.

Lee played football at the University of Rhode Island from 2018-2022, bursting on the scene in 2022 by hauling in 56 passes for 908 yards and 6 TDs for the Rams, good for second in the CAA.

Though Lee is on the shorter side at just 5-foot-9, he’s quick, shifty, and adds another tool to Bill O’Brien’s toolbox. It’ll be interesting to see where he lines up on Tuesday.

9 - WR JuJu Smith-Schuster 

The Patriots signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a three-year, $33 million contract back in mid-March - likely with the idea of him becoming their top option on offense and a security blanket for Mac Jones.

The fifth-year receiver missed New England’s optional session last Wednesday and was in Washington D.C. on Monday with the Chiefs to celebrate their Super Bowl win - but has been present for a majority of the Patriots offseason program.

If and when JuJu does come back for OTAs, his rapport with Mac Jones will be the center of attention:

“Juju’s done a great job… What a great value to our offense,” Jones said of his new wide receiver. “[He’s] a football nerd. Kinda like me.”

8 - RB Ty Montgomery & 7 - RB Pierre Strong Jr.

These two are coupled given the camp competition they’re likely in. Though it’s still technically the offseason and “no one's competing for jobs” according to Belichick, the third-down back battle is something we’re already seeing unfold.

Montgomery worked with wide receivers last week during positional drills but was in the backfield during both 7s and team. Strong Jr., who caught just seven passes and tallied just 100 rushing yards during his rookie season, has an uphill battle in front of him and will need to get closer to his college production at South Dakota State if he wants to knock off the aging vet in Montgomery.

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6 - CB Christian Gonzalez

Christian Gonzalez, drafted 17th overall by the Patriots in the 2023 NFL Draft, was back in Foxborough for practice on Monday after missing last week's session in front of the media.

Given that last Wednesday was the only practice he's missed thus far, it’s likely that it was a one-off and he’ll be out in front of the media on Tuesday. It will be our first look at New England’s new CB1.

5 - DL Christian Barmore

The only player more primed than Mac Jones to take a year-three leap is defensive tackle Christian Barmore. After playing in all 17 games as a rookie, the 2021 second-round pick out of Alabama missed seven games in 2022 due to a knee injury.

While Barmore stayed local for much of this past offseason to train at Gillette Stadium, he was one of many to miss last week's practice in front of media. He was back on the field Monday - so it's likely he'll be there again on Tuesday.

4 - QB/WR Malik Cunningham

Rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham was basically everything but that at last weeks session. The undrafted free agent out of Louisville spent most of last Wednesday repping with the wide receivers.

He did take one drive at quarterback at the very end of practice, but the dual-threat will likely slot in as a gadget player rather than a signal-caller for the Patriots. At least that was the vibe last week - we'll see what happens on Tuesday.

3 - WR Tyquan Thornton

Tyquan Thornton was the star of the show last week. He was heavily involved, constantly schemed up for touches by offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and showed off his quickness by burning cornerback Myles Bryant for a touchdown from Mac Jones.

After a collarbone injury sidelined the speedster to begin his rookie year, Thornton told reporters that he worked on getting stronger and adding muscle this offseason to hopefully give him a better chance at lasting a full season.

Though they're not in pads on Tuesday, it will still be a start to see if he can not only stick around, but continue to build on great performances.

2 - LB/S Marte Mapu

Despite rocking a red non-contact jersey, rookie third-round pick Marte Mapu was all over the field for the Patriots defense during last Wednesday’s practice.

Plugged in at linebacker, the former Sacramento State Hornet looked fast, fluid, instinctual, and like he belonged - a rave review for someone who was playing games in the Big Sky Conference just eight months ago.

Once fully healthy, the hybrid linebacker/safety may become a day-one impact player for this New England defense.

1 - QB Mac Jones

Are eyes ever not on Mac Jones? The third-year quarterback looked put back together again during last week's practice, and Tuesday will be one step towards determining if it was a fluke or not.

According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Jones has spent the majority of his offseason alongside Bill O'Brien, and Bill Belichick is “mostly delegating all things offense to his new/old coordinator, in a siloed-off model that feels, to those there, much more like how things were when Josh McDaniels was around a couple of years ago.”

Things looked back to normal last week. Let's see if that carries over.

Make sure to follow Mike on Twitter @mikekadlick, and follow @WEEI for the latest up-to-date Patriots and Boston sports news!

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove, USA Today Sports