Sunday 7: Time to go all-in on Jonnu Smith with Patriots

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1. It’s only been nine Patriots training camp practices, but it’s time to get on the Jonnu Smith train. Based on what we’ve seen, the former Titans tight end is in a position to have a monster season. Through four years in the league, his career-high in receptions and yards came last year when he had 41 catches and 448 yards and it would be a major surprise if he doesn’t eclipse both this year with the Patriots. Speaking after the in-stadium practice Friday night, Smith acknowledged he may do some things with the Patriots he hasn’t done before, which could include taking hand-offs on occasion. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will really enjoy coming up with plays to get Smith the ball in space, as he’s at his best when he’s able to run after the catch. Smith may be the closest player on the field the Patriots have had to Aaron Hernandez and he was used in a variety of ways. The tight end also seems to be enjoying his time with the team. “Yeah, man, it’s an amazing atmosphere,” he said. “These fans are awesome, man. Just getting out here and just feeling the game-day vibes, man, it’s something to look forward to. This is it, you know what I mean? When you talk about NFL football, New England Patriots, Sunday in Foxborough, that’s the stuff you grow up dreaming about. Being here, being part of this team, being able to say I’m a big part of helping this team win is real humbling.” Smith seems like a player who could become a fan favorite both on and off the field this season.

2. When it comes to the Patriots’ quarterback competition, we’re not ready to say Mac Jones has surpassed Cam Newton just yet. While the rookie was impressive at the end of last week, including Thursday in the rain, it needs to be done consistently and also against other teams in the joint sessions and preseason games. Yes, Jones has been impressive, but he needs to be definitively better than Newton to start Week 1 and going into practice Sunday, he’s not quite there. And this isn’t saying he won’t get there, it’s just saying he hasn’t gotten there yet.

3. It will be interesting to see what the quarterback reps look like in Thursday’s preseason game, especially since there’s no joint sessions with Washington beforehand. It could be a whole lot of Jake Dolegala or we could see things look like training camp thus far where Newton starts, Jones comes in next for an extended look and then Brian Hoyer and Dolegala close it out. It’s likely we won’t find out this answer until Thursday, as Bill Belichick likely won’t say his plans during the week.

4. Besides undrafted rookie kicker Quinn Nardin, the biggest takeaway from Friday’s in-stadium practice was Matt Patricia coaching one team and Belichick the other. It’s hard to say exactly what it means for Patricia, just that his role as senior football advisor will likely include game-day activities. Afterwards, Dont’a Hightower was asked what his role is with the defense, but he couldn’t say. “That’s a question above my pay grade, sir,” he said.

5. We’ve argued for much of the offseason that the Patriots need to add at the wide receiver position, but after a week-plus of training camp, they may be OK. This isn’t saying there’s great depth at the position, but assuming they get above average production from the tight end spot, it can make up for things at receiver. Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne appear to be the top three receivers and figure to see the most playing time with the team utilizing a lot of multiple tight end sets.

6. One position that may need to be addressed is the backup offensive line spots. If Ted Karras returns soon, the interior would be fine, but there’s no depth at tackle. Justin Herron and Korey Cunningham are the top options right now and it feels like that could be improved. Keep an eye on tackles released around the league when rosters are trimmed and perhaps the Patriots looking to pick one up.

7. There aren’t many chances to see the Patriots in training camp left. The team will practice Sunday-Tuesday afternoons with Tuesday being another in-stadium practice and then after that there are just the two joint sessions against the Giants in a few weeks. So far attendance has been down, but that can be attributed to a variety of factors, including COVID and people not wanting to go places with large crowds, no autographs and also not having Tom Brady. We’ll see if attendance picks up this week since the intensity has picked up since Week 1.

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