The first two weeks of New England Patriots training camp is in the books, with the team having held a total of nine practices to date. Those nine sessions were quite eventful, and have given us a first taste in the direction the team might be headed this year both personnel-wise and from a schematic perspective.
Obviously, a lot can and will still happen before the start of the regular season next month. As a sort of status update, though, let’s take a look at 10 players who have surprised us for whatever reason since camp was kicked off.
QB Mac Jones: There is no question Jones is a better player than he was a year ago, and the reason he is on this list has little to do with him but rather the circumstances. The Patriots’ new offense, after all, has had its problems through two weeks which has resulted in a visibly frustrated quarterback at times. That was not to be expected pre-camp, at least not to that extent. Of course, one more time: it’s still early.
RB Ty Montgomery: Montgomery arrived in New England with relatively little fanfare, but it appears he might be earning himself a prominent role this season. After nine practices it appears he is the next in line to fill the shoes previously worn by receiving back James White: with White still on the physically unable to perform list and with rookie Pierre Strong Jr. only a minor participant thus far, the veteran has made the most of his opportunities.
G Arlington Hambright: The Patriots’ starting five along the offensive line appear to be set in stone, but the depth spots behind them still appear to be open at this point in time. One player who is making a strong case for himself is Arlington Hambright, who joined the Patriots via a reserve/futures contract in mid-January. Surprisingly, Hambright has repeatedly seen starter-level reps at right guard in place of Michael Onwenu.
DT LaBryan Ray: If there is an undrafted rookie with realistic chances of making the Patriots’ roster this year it is LaBryan Ray. The Alabama product has looked good whenever on the field, making an impact both as a run defender and a pass rusher. Through nine practices he has been credited with three unofficial would-be sacks in team drills, tied for most on the team with linebacker Matthew Judon.
LB Anfernee Jennings: After two relatively quiet seasons it appears former third-round draft pick Anfernee Jennings might finally have turned the corner. The 25-year-old has seen regular practice reps with the starters through two weeks, and at one point took over Matthew Judon’s spot in the lineup. Jennings has set a stout edge so far and might become a factor on early downs when all is said and done.
LB Ronnie Perkins: Has sophomore outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins been bad? Not necessarily. However, he has not lived up to his potential as a player making the famous Year 2 jump either. Thus far, he has spent a significant portion of his time with the second-stringers and scout team. The former third-round selection has had his moments, but they were few and far between.
LB Cameron McGrone: After spending virtually his entire 2021 rookie season on the sidelines, hopes were high for McGrone to carve out a prominent role in the new-look off-the-ball linebacker rotation. Thus far, he has not done that: McGrone has seen some starter reps but appears to be behind Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson on the depth chart. The hype train has therefore slowed down quite a bit since camp started.
CB Terrance Mitchell: Based on pedigree, Malcolm Butler appeared to be the frontrunner to earn the vacant outside cornerback spot previously occupied by J.C. Jackson. Based on minicamp performance, rookie Jack Jones looked like a realistic candidate. Based on the first nine days of practice, however, Terrance Mitchell seems to be the guy. Maybe a somewhat surprising development, but Mitchell has looked good.
CB Malcolm Butler: Based on pedigree, Malcolm Butler appeared to be the frontrunner to earn the vacant outside cornerback spot previously occupied by J.C. Jackson. Thus far, however, the veteran has been relatively quiet compared to Terrance Mitchell. He looked a bit better during the last few sessions, but at the moment still appears to be CB3 on the outside behind Mitchell and Jalen Mills.
S Joshuah Bledsoe: The Patriots have as strong a safety group as any team in the NFL, and yet Joshuah Bledsoe is making a strong case to ultimately join Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers on the 53-man squad. The second-year defender has been an active participant through two weeks, seeing regular action with the starters as a free safety and slot defender. He has not looked out of place.
Even though the 10 players listed here have surprised for one reason or another, there is no guarantee they will continue on their current trajectory. Preseason in particular will be the first real test to show whether or not those surprises are only fleeting snapshots or indeed real trends.
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