Who has stood out in Patriots Training Camp? Curran and Perry share their perspectives

·13 min read

Curran and Perry share their Patriots Training Camp superlatives originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Patriots Training Camp 2022 is over. For more than three weeks, the team was on semi-lockdown, eating, breathing, sleeping, practicing and playing football. Now, a regular-season rhythm takes over. No more open practices. No more sleeping in a hotel. While there are still joint practices in Las Vegas next week, the transition is underway.

It’s been interesting, no doubt about that. And while the storylines have focused mainly on questions and concerns -- offensive transition, playcalling, post-McDaniels transition -- there are plenty of places where the arrow seems to be pointing up.

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So here’s your quick-and-dirty list of camp superlatives to shine a light on what we saw over the past 21 days and 13 practices.

Biggest surprise

Curran: Tyquan Thornton

There were a lot of directions to go with this but I have to go with the wispy rookie because I didn’t think he’d be ready to make a mark. I’m sure that’s related to my Aaron Dobson-N’Keal Harry-Josh Boyce-Brandon Tate-Taylor Price PTSD, but the upshot is Thornton’s been terrific. Not just a straight-line blur, he’s outstanding at changing speeds and setting up sudden breaks which a lot of fast guys struggle with. He’s shown physicality and toughness despite being shaped like a Q-tip. He’s got excellent body control. He’s mature. I’m excited to watch him.

Perry: Marcus Jones

Believe me, I've been a fan of Jones' skills since before the draft. But even I didn't foresee him becoming their immediate starter in the slot. But that's what it looks like he'll be doing for the Patriots this season. And returning punts. No signs yet that he'll be worked in offensively, but he already looks like one of their most capable corners. So capable, in fact, that Bill Belichick appears willing to play his longtime "star" corner (that's what the Patriots call it in their system) Jonathan Jones on the boundary rather than inside.

Most improved

Curran: Marcus Jones

This sticky little waterbug third-round pick seems like he’s wedging his way into the regular rotation and maybe even into the starting lineup. After June minicamp, we knew fellow rookie corner Jack Jones was highly regarded out of the chutes by the amount of reps he was given and his performance. And he’s still been very solid. But Marcus has really emerged in camp with his position versatility and reliability. He’s gonna get cooked a few times when the season starts. It’s inevitable. But buy Marcus Jones stock.

Perry: Nelson Agholor

It never clicked last year for the veteran wideout. Agholor finished with just 37 catches, despite being the most highly-paid receiver on the team. He looked due for a pay reduction, a trade or even a release. He made too much money. He didn't project as an important part of the offense. And the receiver room in Foxboro was deep. But Agholor has been very consistent through camp, and despite a bad drop that led to a pick during the in-stadium practice earlier this month, he's flashed excellent contested-catch ability. He was the best receiver on the field -- for either team -- during the second joint practice with the Panthers, and he's consistently been one of the team's top-three wideouts in the huddle with Mac Jones. He seems to have improved by leaps and bounds. Anfernee Jennings deserves a mention here, too. He's been very effective in the reps he's been given after missing all of last season.

Invisible man

Curran: Isaiah Wynn

The 2018 first-rounder got flipped from left tackle to right tackle in the spring. Thanks in part, no doubt, to his unsteady 2021. He didn’t exactly register joy when speaking to reporters about it then. The same ambivalent tone carried into camp. And now he’s been out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury for more than a week. It’s hard to know what you’re going to get from Wynn, if anything. And he’s making a guaranteed $10M this year.

Perry: Pierre Strong

He began camp as a limited participant. But even as he's progressed physically and played more, he hasn't stood out. No surprise there as the "sub" back role he plays can be a very difficult one to grasp. James White famously sat out almost the entirety of his rookie year in 2014. Tom's choice, Wynn, is the perfect one here since he's once again dealing with an injury that's hampering his ability to make an impact. Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi would fit here as well. Even with a tight-end heavy offensive attack, it's unclear there's an NFL-caliber tight end on the roster after Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.

Best newcomer

Curran: Mack Wilson

The Patriots wanted to become faster and more explosive defensively. The linebacker level was a smart place to start. And Wilson has shown his speed and playmaking ability in both practices and the first preseason game.

Perry: DeVante Parker

This is an easy one for me. I think he should be in the running for camp MVP (more on that soon). What he's done as a jump-ball vacuum has been extremely impressive. And his quarterback trusts him. During the first joint practice with the Panthers, Mac Jones motioned Jakobi Meyers away from Parker's side of the formation, giving Jones a clear look at a one-on-one matchup on the outside. He didn't hesitate to loft one Parker's way, and as Parker has done so often this summer, he timed his jump perfectly and came down with the football. If he can stay healthy, which he has to this point, watch out.

Biggest disappointment

Curran: Kendrick Bourne

Arguably the best player in the Patriots passing game last season, Bourne was a house-a-fire in the first couple of practices but his output tapered when the pads came on. There are a LOT of players to spread the ball too so some of it may have been related to that, but Tuesday’s practice where Bourne got bounced from 11-on-11s early for not being ready to go and then got bounced from practice for throwing a punch during one of the scrums just wasn’t what you’re looking for from a player who should be a staple of the offense.

Perry: Malcolm Butler

Bourne is the obvious choice here, but just to offer up another option, Butler fits. When signed, folks inside the building presumed he'd be one of the team's best options to start opposite Jalen Mills. He never quite got there, taking reps with the backups and across the field from fourth-round rookie Jack Jones for the majority of camp. Now he's hurt and it's unclear what the future holds for his career. For anyone who has enjoyed watching Butler over the years and tracking his road from undrafted afterthought to Super Bowl hero and No. 1 corner, it's disappointing to see his season end the way it has.

Biggest story

Curran: The new offense. Can you score more points than the other team? That’s the object of the game. So the Patriots pivoting from a scheme that created legends and will be celebrated for decades is big news. And even as they downplay the changes being made, when the quarterback speaks at length for the first two weeks of camp about the challenge of the "new" offense, you know this is a big deal. Related? That the Patriots have two coaches who’ve never been offensive coordinators or playcallers at the forefront of installing and calling this thing.

Perry: The biggest story, for me, is the big-picture story that helps fuel all others hovering over this team at the moment: How has Mac Jones progressed in his second season? I'm reminded of the rule of the Three Ps that our friends Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of NFL Media love to discuss. They are, "Playmakers, Play-caller and Protection." That's what every young quarterback needs to find success, they would argue. Jones appears to have the first, even if his supporting cast won't be ranked by anyone as an elite unit. They have talent. It's the other two that are in question, so much so that it's difficult to tell how much Jones has come along in Year 2. He's progressed as a leader. He's progressed in his ability to use his voice. But as far as his on-the-field play goes, we still aren't sure who will be calling plays come September and those duties have been split up during practices. And Jones' protection has been a constant issue. Until he gets more consistency from those two Ps, it will be hard to discern how far his game has come along since 2021.

Best story

Curran: Kickass draft? Yeah, it’s early. But six of the 10 Patriots draft selections -- Cole Strange, Thornton, the Jones boys, Bailey Zappe and Sam Roberts -- have been -- at least -- net positives so far. The concern when they traded down in the first round and selected Strange was that the Patriots passed on impact players for a flagging defense. They may have gotten them anyway.

Perry: Christian Barmore has been a one-man wrecking crew. Just over a year from sliding into the second round of the draft because of perceived maturity issues, he now looks like the most talented player on the Patriots defense. He was my runner-up for MVP of camp and was only surpassed in the last couple of days because of plays made by the guy I ultimately chose. But he’s been a force, and combined with his college quarterback could end up making the 2021 draft class one of Belichick’s best ever. 

Quote of the camp

Curran: Mac Jones on the new offense: "I’m going to figure it out. I always have. I always will. At the end of the day, you’re going to have your ups and downs with anything new, but I’ve learned a lot of different systems and the guys around me have too. We know what football looks like, we know what a good play looks like. . . . It just needs to be more consistent. We all trust in each other at the end of the day. When there’s 10 people that look into my eyes, I know they’re going to trust me to do the right thing on game day."

Perry: "In camp, in preseason, during the season, mid-season, you see things that are going well, you try to figure out a way to exploit that more or do more of it," said Bill Belichick when asked if he'd be willing to pull the plug on new designs if those designs don't produce results. "You see things that aren’t going well, you either figure out a way to improve it or get rid of it and move onto something else that’s more productive. You have a couple different options there. You just have to decide which one you feel is the right one. If you’re spending time on something that’s not productive, then maybe you need to change it or find something else. It’s just not efficient."

Best play

Curran: Tyquan Thornton made an over-the-helmet catch down the right sideline on the second day of practice with Jalen Mills in tight coverage that was jaw-dropping. How good? Mills stood and applauded after being beat.

Perry: Marcus Jones' tipped-to-himself interception on Wednesday against the Panthers was a thing of beauty. The Parker 50-50 grabs have been mini-athletic marvels because of the coordination and timing he shows on each. They're almost carbon copies of one another. I'll lean Parker here because it wasn't just a one-off.

Steady Eddie

Curran: Jakobi Meyers

Every day, same guy. Get open. Make catch. Turn upfield. Lather-rinse-repeat.

Perry: Matthew Judon

Those red sleeves have popped consistently. He's not always a dominant force in one-on-one periods, but in team periods, just about every day, there's a moment or two when I scribble in my notebook, "Judon sack." He's been available and productive from the early portion of camp right through the end. Nothing too flashy. Just Steady Eddie.

Under-the-radar story

Curran: The team’s apparent defensive improvement overall. It starts with Mills and the cornerbacks but it extends to the safeties, the second-level and up to the front as well.

Perry: The collection of offensive tweaks that aren't Shanahan-related. We've seen plenty of the wide-zone runs that have taken the league by storm as Mike and Kyle Shanahan pupils populate head-coaching gigs and offensive coordinator seats around the league. But we've also seen a smattering of RPOs. (Mac Jones said this week the team is trying to incorporate things he likes that he's done before. RPOs would qualify.) We've seen Jonnu Smith take a variety of different hand-offs and park himself in a variety of pre-snap alignments. This offense will look different in 2022 for a number of different reasons.

Coach of camp

Curran: Mike Pellegrino

If you can get a fleet of newcomers and rookies to hit the ground running the way Pellegrino and the rest of the Patriots defensive coaches have done with the New England cornerbacks, you deserve a pat on the back.

Perry: Let's go with Brian Belichick here. The safeties have been active. Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty will all play important roles, and we should see plenty of "big nickel" -- with all three on the field simultaneously -- this coming season. Belichick has also helped Josh Bledsoe look like a versatile player worthy of an active-roster spot, and he's helped safety-slash-special-teamer Brenden Schooler turn heads. 

Camp MVP

Curran: Trent Brown

With the offensive line giving see-saw performances far too often, at least the team knows that the massive left tackle (who’s actually slimmer than past years) is going to do his job on the blindside. Plus, he’s been out there virtually every practice and every rep. That’s got to be a huge comfort for everyone involved.

Perry: Jalen Mills

The defense has clearly been ahead of the offense through training camp. And Mills has been the team's most consistently-disruptive defensive player. Has he been beaten? Yup. But not much. And even when that's happened, it's generally taken an acrobatic grab by Parker. Plus, when Mills has had a chance to get his hands on the football, he's done it. In Tuesday's practice, he broke up three throws, including one at the goal line at the end of a Panthers two-minute drill. He's been in the right place at the right time, and he's been aggressively attacking footballs when he has the chance. Unexpected as it may be, he's your MVP.