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Risers and fallers from the first week of Patriots training camp

The Patriots use the start of training camp as a ramp-up period, a chance to slowly work into what Bill Belichick called “the dog days of camp.” That means the practices progressively get longer and gradually implement more scheme and strategy.

The Patriots will don full pads for the first time Monday. But that doesn’t mean their first four practices were without merit. While it’s tougher to evaluate linemen before pads come on, that period is a chance for skill-position players to stand out.

So with the first week of training camp now in the books, let’s look at the biggest risers and fallers in New England, focusing mostly on skill-position players.


CB Jonathan Jones

The Patriots secondary has been the standout of the first few days of training camp, and no player in that group has been better than Jones. Fresh off signing a two-year extension this spring to stay in New England, Jones has done it all so far, playing outside corner, nickel corner and safety. And perhaps most impressively, he has looked great at each spot. Pats receivers have had a tough time getting open against any of the team’s corners — but they’ve especially struggled against Jones.

Edge Josh Uche

I said this would mostly focus on skill-position players, but it has been impossible to miss Uche the first few days. The 24-year-old seems primed to build on his 11.5-sack breakout a year ago. Players aren’t allowed to sack the quarterback yet in camp, so it’s difficult to quantify his takedowns, but he has been a constant fixture in the backfield. It’s worth noting that he hasn’t gone against the toughest competition at right tackle (more on that later), but it’s been impressive nonetheless.

CB Christian Gonzalez

I’m still surprised the Patriots were able to land Gonzalez with the 17th pick. He has looked the part since spring practices and done a nice job early in training camp, continually shutting down the receivers he’s facing. Some scouts knocked his ability to stop the run, so it’ll be worth following his progress once pads come on, but so far, it has been a dream start for the first-round pick who looks like a Week 1 starter.

S Kyle Dugger

It’s always fair to wonder if a contract might become a distraction for a player entering the final year of his deal. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for Dugger. He intercepted Mac Jones on each of the first two days of practice and has been a dominant part of Belichick’s versatile defense.

WR Demario Douglas

It has been a rough few days for Patriots wide receivers — that’s part of the reason you see two cornerbacks as risers on this list — but Douglas has made a positive impression on coaches. The Liberty product whom the Pats selected in the sixth round has been the only rookie to get consistent playing time with the first-team offense. He’s the favorite at the moment to win the No. 5 receiver job and even has a chance to leapfrog Kendrick Bourne for the fourth spot on the depth chart.


WR Tyquan Thornton

Expectations were high for Thornton as the second-round pick from 2022 enters Year 2 as a pro. But after a disappointing rookie season, Thornton has been awfully quiet to open camp. He didn’t have a single catch during drills against the defense in the team’s first three practices. Everyone knows about his speed, but he’s going to need to sharpen his routes to get open more regularly, particularly once the pads come on.

RT Riley Reiff

I said it was hard to evaluate linemen during the first few days of camp without pads, but it has been hard to miss Reiff, who has been beaten by Uche multiple times. Right tackle was one of the team’s biggest questions entering camp, and early, they seem further from an answer than when they started. The Patriots need to hope Reiff, Calvin Anderson or Conor McDermott steps up in the coming weeks.

WR Kendrick Bourne

Like Thornton, Bourne also failed to record a single catch through the first three practices against the defense. The hope is that he and the team can put last season, when Bourne lost the favor of offensive coaches early and never fully regained their trust, behind them. But even though it’s a new group of offensive coaches this year, he’s going to need to show more than he has for Bill O’Brien to have faith in Bourne as the No. 3 or 4 receiver.

QB Mac Jones

OK, don’t freak out. We’re only four practices into a very, very long season. The Patriots defense Jones faces every day should be really, really good. He and the offense are still learning O’Brien’s scheme. And just because Jones hasn’t gotten off to a great start doesn’t mean it’s time to lose faith in what he could do this season. Now, having said all that, it hasn’t been the first few days Jones envisioned. He threw two poor interceptions in the first two days. He doesn’t have the timing down with his receivers. And so far, it has been pretty ugly for the New England passing game (at least when it’s not throwing to Hunter Henry). Jones is not in jeopardy of losing his starting job or anything, but there’s room for improvement.


Is Patriots QB Mac Jones primed for a bounce-back season?

TE Mike Gesicki

A lot of the same preamble from Jones applies here too. The Pats are still very high on Gesicki and how he’ll make this offense better. But so far, Henry has been great (he easily could’ve appeared in the risers section since he has been the offense’s top target so far), while Gesicki has been curiously quiet. That will probably change in the coming weeks, but it’s worth noting for now.

(Photo of Christian Gonzalez: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

The Football 100, the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order it here.

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