Perry: How Jonnu Smith could play a bigger role for Patriots in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FOXBORO -- The Patriots took things slowly on Monday morning, for the most part. The Panthers are headed to town for joint practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, which should be intense sessions, so Bill Belichick's first practice of the week was a lighter one in shells and shorts.
But that didn't mean there was nothing to glean. Let's get into our takeaways with some Stock Up and Stock Down.
Stock up: Jonnu Smith
If you thought the Patriots might be getting away from their wide-zone movement in the running game -- which has been featured heavily in camp -- because it didn't make an early appearance in last week's preseason game with the Giants, think again. Either a wide-zone run, or a play-action pass off that action, or some variation of that concept was run at least a dozen times Monday, by my count.
But there was also another offensive wrinkle we've seen sprinkled in sporadically in recent practices -- and once in the preseason opener -- that returned Monday: the RPO.
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Though Josh McDaniels said last year that the Patriots have the ability to call run-pass option plays, those haven't been a significant part of the Patriots playbook as they've spread around the rest of the NFL. In their latest practice, though, Mac Jones hit Jonnu Smith on a quick-hitting route in the flat while offensive linemen appeared to block for a run play.
Later in the workout, Jones hit Smith again on a swing pass with linemen blocking hard downfield. Toward the end of the practice, Jones and Smith seemed to be working on connecting on shorter passes with Smith coming down the line of scrimmage in motion pre-snap.
Smith was utilized heavily on Monday and from a variety of different alignments. We've seen him deployed in the backfield as well as on the line of scrimmage. We've seen him run various routes from those alignments. And we've seen him look comfortable as a pass-catcher when that was at times an issue for him in his first year.
Trent Brown said Monday that the new Patriots offense is going to put its playmakers in better position to make plays. With Smith as a catch-and-run option in RPOs and as a yards-after-catch producer off wide-zone play-action throws, he looks like he's poised to be a much bigger part of the Patriots passing game in 2022.
Stock up: Nelson Agholor
Smith wasn't the only 2021 free-agent pickup who had a hard time getting his feet under him in Foxboro. Agholor caught 37 passes in his first season despite being the highest-paid wideout on the roster.
Agholor flashed some strong contested-catch ability on Monday, making a touchdown grab on a back-corner-of-the-end-zone fade that was well-covered by Jonathan Jones. Later he made a one-handed snag in the end zone with Jalen Mills on him.
Though he still carries a hefty cap hit, and though the Patriots receiver room is deep, if Agholor can keep stacking days like Monday, it would stand to reason he'll have a place on the roster.
Stock up: Yodny Cajuste
Despite dealing with an apparent injury during last week's preseason game with the Giants, Cajuste was back on the field and participating fully Monday. At this point in camp -- especially for the Patriots offensive line right now -- that's half the battle.
Isaiah Wynn missed another practice and has been unavailable since last week. Justin Herron, hurt against the Giants, did not participate. That left Cajuste to protect Mac Jones' front side at right tackle.
Belichick said Cajuste has had his best camp as a pro this summer, and he impressed during a competitive practice last week with his reps against Matt Judon. He looks like he's strongly in control of the No. 3 tackle role at the moment.
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Stock down: Remainder of Patriots' offensive line
Brown picked up a false start penalty during a hurry-up period at the end of practice, and during that same period the Patriots protectors up front had a hard time keeping defenders away from Jones. Jabrill Peppers, Josh Uche and Raekwon McMillan all had "sacks" during that portion of practice, which lasted nine snaps for the top offense.
Stock down: Malcolm Butler
Butler has at times taken snaps with the No. 1 defense during camp. But he was out there against the Giants last week when the majority of presumed starters rested, and he made an appearance in the kicking game on punt return coverage in the preseason opener as well. That isn't necessarily a harbinger of what's to come for him, but he also missed Monday's practice.
Belichick has said many times over the years that dependability and availability are critical, and if Butler misses more time against the Panthers later this week, that wouldn't help his chances of locking down a key role defensively. With Jalen Mills, Jack Jones, Jonathan Jones and Terrance Mitchell all getting early reps on the outside this summer, there's good competition there.
Stock down: Kendrick Bourne
Bourne remains a regular with the top group offensively, but he's been quiet in recent weeks from a targets and catches standpoint.
He was targeted just once by Jones on Monday and there was a clear miscommunication between him and Jones on a route along the boundary. Jones expected Bourne to continue up the field and Bourne cut off his route. By the time the pass hit the turf, Mills was closer to the pass than Bourne was.
Bourne has acknowledged that there is plenty to learn in the offense this offseason, and he's shown a willingness to do whatever is asked, but he has not been as busy as other veterans on the roster at his position -- Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker -- in recent practices.