In a few weeks, the glass slippers might fall off this Patriots' defense, and they might start looking like the subpar unit we've been expecting them to be.
Then again, you can't deny which side of the ball is winning when the teams have hit the field during padded practices thus far.
Some of this is because the offense is clearly going through growing pains as it learns a new system, with several examples of players unsure where to line up coming out of the huddle and several plays that featured unblocked pass-rushers and run-stuffers. Hopefully, the Patriots will have that cleaned up by the time they have to play a squad that will actually hit Mac Jones and his skill players.
On a positive note, though, the emergence of a truly beastly force on the defensive line is showing signs of being able to lift this unit above its talent on paper.
Christian Barmore, defense wreck shop
Barmore is hard enough to deal with when he's against top-line offensive linemen. Putting him against backups is just sadistic.
On one snap working against the second-team offense, he utterly overwhelmed two blockers to force Bailey Zappe to abandon the pocket. The next play, he discarded a man and snatched up running back Ty Montgomery with just one arm.
Just generally, Barmore and the defense are looking stronger than advertised through two days of padded practice.
Henry Anderson batted a Mac Jones pass at the line of scrimmage on the first play of competitive team drills. Linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson were stuffing running plays on the regular, with Wilson coming from nowhere to smash J.J. Taylor for a goal-line stop. Pressure forced Jones and Zappe to step up or scramble on multiple occasions.
Then, in 1-on-1 blocking drills, Josh Uche looked unblockable, torching both Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown with inside moves that left the big tackles frozen.
The offense is still finding its way, of course. But this defense looks like it's flying around with some renewed swagger in training camp.
Nelson Agholor, Tre Nixon back in business
DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton have gotten some well-deserved love of late, but Agholor was the best receiver on the field Tuesday.
The veteran wideout had one of the best plays of the day, tracking an underthrown deep ball in 1-on-1s before leaping up to snare it with one hand against Joejuan Williams much to the delight of the crowd at Gillette.
Then, in team drills at the end of practice, he and Mac Jones connected on an improbable touchdown along the back line of the end zone. Jones somehow rifled the ball through multiple sets of defenders' hands right into the mitts of Agholor, who made an excellent concentration catch.
Nixon, who has gone a bit cold since his breakout spring camp, grabbed a deep completion down the seam from Bailey Zappe and caught two red-zone touchdowns from the rookie quarterback near the end of practice.
On a day where the offense didn't have a ton going for it outside of 1-on-1s, they provided some clear bright spots.
Offense turning to two tight ends for comfort
On one hand, we already saw this movie last year: Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith getting on the field a lot together during training camp.
The difference right now, though, is that the Patriots seem to actually be using its two high-priced tight ends to exploit the very mismatches they present.
For example: on the first play of competitive 7-on-7s, Jones found Smith matched up in the slot against the much-smaller Myles Bryant and immediately hit the tight end for a quick catch-and-run. The next play, Henry got open quickly against zone on the opposite side for about six yards.
Then, the two made solid headway in the run game when lined up side-by-side, and the offense routinely ran behind them for good gains.
As much focus remains on the receivers, the ol' two-tight end position group might be the one the Patriots lean on when they need to get on track, as they did Tuesday.
Play of the Day
When you send Tyquan Thornton down the field, good things happen, apparently.
A day after Thornton got the crowd on their feet by beating Joejuan Williams for a diving touchdown grab in 1-on-1s, the rookie speedster showed off some finesse to outfox Jalen Mills in a head-to-head matchup Tuesday.
Thornton stacked Mills on a post-corner route and, despite very tight coverage, perfectly tracked Mac Jones' line-drive throw over his shoulder and into his arms like Willie Mays running down a fly ball at the Polo Grounds. The play was so good, from Thornton shielding Mills from the ball to actually making the catch, that even Mills gave the rookie a nod and a golf clap.
The speed is what gets everyone excited about Thornton. But his hands and the natural things he does as a pass-catcher are what will get him on the field. He's regularly getting snaps with Jones and No. 1 offense in addition to running with the backups, so it seems like the Patriots want to give him every opportunity to earn a role now.