The Patriots' 2020 training camp — what there was of it during this pandemic — is done. Twelve practices are in the books as New England begins to set the stage in earnest for the regular season. Consider this the capper on camp — 13 awards for what I've seen sitting in the stands for the last two-plus weeks — that will lead into our final 53-man roster ahead of Saturday's cutdown by 4 p.m.
We cover everything from the best defensive and offensive rookies, to the biggest disappointments.
The envelope please …
Nominees: Hjlate Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Derek Rivers, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Yodny Cajuste. (David Andrews not eligible ... he was in camp last year)
It's hard to really quantify how bad Froholdt, a fourth-round pick in 2019, was last year in camp. He lost over half his one-on-one reps (average if 33 percent), but he was even worse in the preseason games where it looked like the game was way too fast for him and it made you question how long he might last. He mysteriously sustained a shoulder injury late in camp that caused him to miss the entire season (hate the playa, not the game), which was probably best for everyone.
Fast forward a year, and not only was Froholdt terrific in camp, he also showed that he can play center to the point that it looks like they have a real backup there now should something happen to Andrews again. Froholdt will never be the fastest guy, but he's much stronger now and his hands are moving with his feet. Excited to see what he can become, and his progression makes a Joe Thuney trade possible (but still doubtful).
BEST DEFENSIVE ROOKIE
Nominees: Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Cassh Maluia, Scoota Harris, Bill Murray.
This will be a little controversial, but bear with me. Dugger was on and off the field with injuries and took a backseat. Uche was there but was moved around it was hard to really tell how impactful he really was. Jennings got on the field very late and was really coming on as the open practices, and if we had another week, he might have taken this award easier.
But Maluia was on there for just about every practice, and he seemed to get better as a reserve linebacker every time out. And Bill Belichick obviously loves him ... he's constantly praising him on the field. I'd be surprised if he's not on the 48-man gameday active roster and contributing on special teams to start, and a key defensive replacement.
BEST OFFENSIVE ROOKIE
Nominees: Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Michael Onwenu, Justin Herron, JJ Taylor.
This is almost by default because, really, if we were judging off plays made in the practices, Taylor would win this. Everyone else was just OK and did a little bit here and there. Didn't see anything from anyone that really makes you sit up and take notice, and it was obvious Asiasi and Keene were swimming a bit ... probably because at TEs coach Nick Caley told us today, they throw a ton of stuff at these guys from jump street.
"They’ve got to learn it all and that’s not a blanket statement, that’s the truth," Caley said. "You’ve got to be able to play extended, you have to be able to play attached, you have to be able to play in the backfield and if you limit yourself and you’re a one-trick pony, it’s really, really, really hard to have a broad enough role to give you flexibility. Like anything else, we try to cross train everybody. That helps them out, that helps us out … it’s a win-win for everybody if you can learn and where the rubber meets the road and get going on all that stuff, that’s what we try to do. For example Jakob Johnson he played TE inline in the preseason last year and then plays fullback in season. So it really doesn’t matter and I tell them that and we tell them that right out the get-go: you’re going to learn it all and we’re going to move you around and position flexibility is an asset."
Nominees: Cam Newton, Damiere Byrd, Brandon Copeland, Beau Allen, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis.
Winner: Cam Newton.
QB1 has been good, but there aren't a lot of options considering Allen still hasn't been on the field. I'll say this about Newton, he improved in just about every practice and he seems to be on the right track, even though it will look different for many fans once the games start.
MOST CONSISTENT DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Nominees: Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, JC Jackson, Stephon Gilmore.
Winner: JC Jackson.
Could easily pick any of those players and I was tempted to go with my Guy, but Jackson deserves some kudos for how good he is right now, and how he brings it every single practice.
MOST CONSISTENT OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Nominees: Gunner Olszewski, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Froholdt, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead.
Winner: (tie) Andrews, Harris.
Andrews just had an outstanding camp, especially where he was a year ago. His strength is up, stamina didn't appear to be an issue. Seems like the time off might have done him well. Harris got the nod at RB due to Sony Michel's absence and never fumbled the opportunity. Michel is going to get the incumbent carries, but we can't wait until Harris gets a chance to carry the rock in the games.
THE KENNY BRITT MEMORABLE MOMENT AWARD
Well, there were no isolated moments like Britt walking off the field in the middle of practice to get treatment and stopping to play with his kids on the field ... holy cow I still can't believe that happened ... but there was something memorable about this camp overall.
With no fans present, we really got to hear a lot more from the players but also the coaches. Probably the thing that sticks out the most was the second Monday practice, where it seemed like Belichick and Josh McDaniels stepped back from the defense and offense, respectively, to coach a position — and the other coaches were told not to coach the players during the play. It was almost like a midterm exam to see where everyone was. Watching Belichick instruct the linebackers on how to cover backs and linebackers — while Steve Belichick ran routes like a low-level assistant — was something to watch and listen to. Many times, you felt like you were being coached by Belichick, and that was interesting to observe.
LONGSHOT WHO CAUGHT OUR EYE
Rashod Berry, DE
The former Ohio State TE played all over the place for the Buckeyes, and he might do this here, but he got a chance to really play defensive end and very much looked the part. He's country strong and a great athlete ... there's something there to work with, to the point that he could land on the 53-man roster. Looks like he has a future, but tough to tell for sure without tackling.
Jermaine Eluemunor, OT
The Ravens were done with him. After a trade to the Patriots, he didn't exactly impress or the coaches would have put him more into the mix on a line that was underwhelming last season. Once Marcus Cannon opted out, it looked like right tackle was going to be a total disaster if Yodny Cajuste didn't answer the bell (he didn't). But Eluemunor, who has had love of football questions dogging him for years, looked terrific in camp to the point he might be an upgrade over 2019 Cannon. Of course, Eluemunor has about 50 million reasons to have a strong year — he'll be a free agent after this season and appears to be on the Trent Brown Plan (two years out, Brown has barely practiced for the Raiders this summer).
Nominees: Beau Allen, N'Keal Harry, Yodny Cajuste, Justin Rohrwasser, Jarrett Stidham.
Not sure he really had a chance at the starting job — I believe he did — but Stidham never made a true push for the job and then had to miss reps due to an injury that should never happen to a 24-year-old when no one can hit him. But everyone on this list was a disappointment, although Harry was far from bad. Just wanted to see him dominate.
BEST PLAYER OF CAMP
Nominees: Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, David Andrews, Damien Harris, JC Jackson, Stephon Gilmore, Nick Folk.
Not sure I saw him put the ball on the ground or drop a pass — he was just very good from the first practice. His vision and ability to cutback was tremendous, and he's such a natural pass catcher. Very, very impressive.
WORST PLAYER OF CAMP
Nominees: Yodny Cajuste, Justin Rohrwasser.
Overall, there weren't many real nominees, which is a testament to the personnel department and the players for being ready to roll (and all the 80-man roster limit that limited the borderline players). Look, we don't know how bad the injury is that he's coming back from, and physically he looks great. And I will say that he started to make progress as the practices came to the end. But he got off to a terrible start and then missed a bunch of practices as well. We expected him to compete for a job. That never happened. That's tough for a third-round pick.
BIGGEST TAKEAWAY OF CAMP
The passing offense is going to be a work in progress, and needs the running game — and a lead — to really have an impact.
The sessions where the defense knew the offense would be passing ... they were really rough thanks to a combination of neophyte QBs in this offense, a lack of speed and separation from the targets, and a great secondary.
Newton's slow with his processing. Harry's game is not separation. The TEs are rookies. Byrd doesn't play as fast as his timed speed. Sanu couldn't get open for 10 days ... it was really rough at times.
Bully Ball will be the bread and butter of this offense, and hopefully they can wear down defenses.