FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The wide receiver position has been under some scrutiny this offseason as questions mount about whether or not the Patriots have enough at the position to truly elevate the offense to a new level in 2023. Those questions got even louder in the aftermath of New England losing out on signing Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins to Tennessee earlier this offseason. Well, the Patriots' seventh training camp practice (second in full pads) provided a bit of optimism to possibly ease those concerns heading into the regular season.
It was a strong day for the entire offense, but particularly a handful of wide receivers as they continue to mold themselves into Bill O'Brien's system. Wednesday was the first practice we were able to see wide receivers and defensive backs go one-on-one and, as you may expect, it featured various highlight plays.
Sixth-round rookie Demario Douglas -- -- was able to beat Marcus Jones on a deep ball thrown by Mac Jones down the left side of the field. DeVante Parker also registered a contested catch along the sideline besting first-round rookie Christian Gonzalez, which led to some playful trash talk on the part of Parker with cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino.
Arguably the most exciting aspect of the one-on-ones, however, was seeing the ability of some players to separate quickly, which the offense has been sorely lacking in previous years. That's where both Douglas and Kendrick Bourne popped and raised some eyebrows with how quickly -- and how much -- they were able to get open. Douglas shook Shaun Wade and was completely open over the middle of the field after the cornerback bit on his fake to the outside. Bourne also was able to shake loose Jack Jones on a similar play to create a wide open target.
"It takes time," JuJu Smith-Schuster said after practice about the offense showing signs that things are clicking. "The past few days or weeks we've been installing new plays and now we're finally being able to go out there and we pretty much know what we know and we master it. This week was kind of like a review week and we're stacking good days."
New England's free-agent addition also got in on his position groups' success. He caught all three of his targets from Mac Jones during competitive 11-on-11s, including a toe-tapping touchdown during red zone work. That play, in particular, was impressive for Smith-Schuster and Jones' chemistry as it had been a route that receivers had been working during individual drills, so to see it translate to 11-on-11s is an encouraging step.
"Oh it was so good," Smith-Schuster said of his touchdown. "The defense, they've been killing us all with trying to combo us and we finally got them on one of them. It was just good football all the way around. You know, I give it up to the defense for doing their job. Mac called a good play against a good defensive call and it worked in our favor, so it was good work."
Whether or not New England will boast a "No. 1 receiver" still remains to be seen, but this collection of pass catchers is beginning to find its footing
More from Day 7
- As you may imagine after we covered the success of the receivers on Wednesday, it was also a stellar day for Mac Jones. I had him going 13-for-15 during competitive 11-on-11s. His first miss came on an overthrow on a deep ball to DeVante Parker while the last was a throwaway at the goal line. As for Bailey Zappe, he went 11-for-13 during 11s and had arguably the throw of the day when he hit Tre Nixon (who beat Jack Jones) on a perfectly thrown deep ball 40-ish yards down the right side of the field. That said, a number of his completions were checkdowns.
- Jones was also the most animated I've seen him at camp this summer as he could be seen dancing and celebrating with his pass catchers after the number of highlight plays. After practice, Smith-Schuster said, "That dude, he's a spark in our offense ... When he's having fun, we're having fun and the confidence level is through the roof."
- While it was largely a strong day for the wide receivers, second-year pass catcher Tyquon Thornton has been quiet thus far in camp. Wednesday featured the former second-round pick, who reportedly was limited throughout the offseason program due to injury, being limited in practice for the first time all camp.
- Cole Strange continues to be sidelined after suffering a leg injury earlier this week, but a recent report by The Boston Globe noted that the injury is not considered serious. The left guard was spotted watching team drills later in practice but was not participating. With Strange sidelined, Kody Russey got some reps at left guard while rookie Atonio Mafi got looks at right guard, filling in for Mike Onwenu.
- Along with Strange, special teamer Cody Davis (PUP), linebacker Terez Hall, wide receiver Ty Montgomery, tackle Calvin Anderson (NFI), and guard Mike Onwenu (PUP) were missing from Wednesday's session.
- Trent Brown, Matthew Judon, Rhamondre Stevenson, Matthew Slater and Brad Hawkins were spotted on the lower field early during the session, so they should be considered limited participants.
- Hunter Henry continues to look smooth inside and outside of the red zone. He said Tuesday that he's gotten lighter but has continued to maintain his strength and that has shown up so far in camp, including Wednesday's session where he was able to create separation and looked quick on his feet during one-on-ones.
- The defensive play of the day arguably came from rookie safety Marte Mapu. Despite still donning the red non-contact jersey, Mapu was able to break up a pass thrown by Bailey Zappe intended for Demario Douglas.
- At the end of practice, the Patriots did start to work in their two-minute offense, albeit at a walkthrough pace.