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DeMario Douglas among 11 Patriots studs and duds from OTAs, minicamp

Doug Kyed, Boston Herald on

Published in Football

The New England Patriots are officially off enjoying their summer vacation.

The team’s offseason workout program ended Wednesday with the final day of mandatory minicamp. That concludes nine weeks of offseason workouts with 11 practices during that time span. The Patriots originally were scheduled to hold 13 practices, but they canceled one organized team activities session and chose to do community service on one of three days of mandatory minicamp under new head coach Jerod Mayo.

Overall, it was viewed as a productive spring for a team with an almost entirely new offensive staff under coordinator Alex Van Pelt and three new QBs in Jacoby Brissett, Drake Maye and Joe Milton III. Van Pelt said the Patriots ran through their newly installed offense twice. The defense, which carries over four assistants from the 2023 season, including Mayo, and most of its starters, showed impressive continuity under new defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington and dominated the offense at times.

Studs

QB Drake Maye

Maye started off the spring practice sessions third in the quarterback pecking order behind Brissett and Bailey Zappe and in front of Milton. By the final practice, he was second only behind Brissett. Mayo stressed the idea that there are no depth charts throughout his pre-practice press conferences. But quarterback reps spoke louder than the coach’s words as the weeks went on.

Maye also ended the offseason workout program in impressive fashion during minicamp. He went 18-of-24 in the Patriots’ first minicamp practice on Monday, drilled some students and teammates in playing dodgeball at the Perkins Community Center/Lee School in Dorchester as part of the team’s community service work on Tuesday, and then he was 9-of-16 with an interception on Wednesday. But after struggling a bit early on the final day of practices, Maye threw four touchdown passes to finish off Day 3’s session to end the spring on the right foot with his right arm.

It wasn’t a perfect spring for the 2024 third overall pick, but Maye showed progress, and that’s exactly what the Patriots were looking for out of their future of the franchise.

It’s still too early to tell who will start Week 1 for the Patriots when they take on the Bengals in Cincinnati. Patriots offensive coaches referred to Brissett as their starter. And he led off all drills at the quarterback position throughout OTAs and minicamp. But if Maye is ready, and if he’s playing better than Brissett (which he did on Wednesday), then there’s no reason to sit the rookie to start the season.

WR Kayshon Boutte

Boutte, a former five-star recruit and 2023 sixth-round pick, had the best overall individual performance in front of reporters of the spring during Wednesday’s practice. With Tyquan Thornton sitting out of practice, Boutte received more opportunities at the “X” receiver position in Van Pelt’s offense and made the most out of them with five catches on seven targets with four touchdowns.

Boutte came in as a rookie last season with some hype given his five-star pedigree. But he was a complete afterthought in a struggling offense, catching two passes for just 19 yards. There were low expectations for Boutte entering the spring after he was arrested this offseason for underage gambling. The Patriots kept him on the roster and saw him as one of their best route runners this spring.

It’s unclear what Boutte’s future holds, but the team has stuck behind him for now. There’s a sixth wide receiver spot on the roster open behind Kendrick Bourne, K.J. Osborn, DeMario Douglas and rookies Ja’Lynn Polk and Javon Baker. Boutte is competing with Thornton, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kawaan Baker and undrafted rookies JaQuae Jackson and David Wallis for that role.

WR DeMario Douglas

Douglas started off his second season on the right foot and impressed team evaluators with his route-running and get-open ability. There’s little doubt that the Patriots view Douglas as their top slot receiver based on his position in team drills.

The Liberty product dealt with concussion issues as a rookie but impressed with 49 catches for 561 yards and 11 punt returns for 56 yards. As long as Douglas stays healthy, he should be a major part of the offense again in 2024.

TE Hunter Henry

While other veteran players skipped voluntary OTAs or used the spring to get over lingering injuries, Henry was out there every practice, at least open to the media, as a top team leader. The Patriots viewed Henry as the best free-agent tight end, which is why they signed him to an extension before the league year officially started. Whether it’s Brissett or Maye starting in Week 1, Henry will be working with his fourth starting quarterback and fourth offensive coordinator since joining the Patriots.

Henry missed 25 games during his five seasons with the Chargers. He missed his first three games as a member of the Patriots in 2023 as he’s provided a consistent presence in an offense otherwise under turmoil since Tom Brady left in 2020. Henry will be a key cog once again in 2024.

DE Keion White

Mayo singled out White as a player who was taking a second-year leap this offseason. White showed dominant traits as a rookie last summer, but it didn’t always translate onto the field during the regular season.

Now in the same defense for the second straight season, White has a chance to boost the Patriots’ pass rush, which also features Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Christian Barmore, Anfernee Jennings and Deatrich Wise Jr.

White has the size and athleticism to play anywhere from outside linebacker to defensive tackle.

 

CB Christian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is another player who has impressed team evaluators with his progress this spring. He looked like one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks as a rookie, but his season ended in disappointing fashion with a torn labrum in Week 4.

Gonzalez has been 100% throughout the spring and looks ready to step back into the Patriots’ defense as their No. 1 cornerback, able to take on and potentially shut down top wide receivers.

CB Alex Austin

The Patriots have had to rely on young backups to fill out the top cornerback group opposite Gonzalez this spring with Jonathan Jones and Marcus Jones both limited in OTAs and minicamp. Austin, who joined the Patriots in November after getting released by the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans, has typically seen himself in a top role across from Gonzalez. He’s been productive and sees himself competing for a starting role.

Gonzalez will be one starter outside, and Jonathan Jones will either start outside or in the slot. That leaves one more starting role for Austin, Marcus Jones, Isaiah Bolden, Marco Wilson, Azizi Hearn, Marcellas Dial, Shaun Wade, Kaleb Ford-Dement or Mikey Victor.

Dial, a 2024 sixth-round pick, has also been limited, but Bolden, Wilson and Hearn have also shown progress this spring.

Duds

QB Bailey Zappe

The 2022 fourth-round pick is unfairly maligned by many Patriots fans, but the team gave him a shot to compete for the starting quarterback job this spring. After taking second-team reps behind Brissett and in front of the rookie QBs, Zappe was slid down the depth chart to No. 3 as the spring progressed.

He received just four reps in 11-on-11s during minicamp and 15 passing attempts overall. Mayo said he plans to keep four quarterbacks for training camp. If there’s a change of heart and the team wants to move forward with just three passers, then Zappe would be the most obvious odd-man out.

WR K.J. Osborn

Osborn was the top “Z” receiver in the Patriots’ offense throughout the spring and failed to make a major impact in practices open to the media.

The Patriots believed Osborn could improve their overall wide receiver depth when they signed the former Minnesota Vikings pass-catcher in free agency. That’s still likely the case, but we would have liked to have seen more out of Osborn with Bourne still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in 2023.

WR Tyquan Thornton

Thornton was also receiving starting reps in the Patriots’ offense to kick off the spring. Then he wasn’t on the field during the team’s final minicamp session. Injuries have plagued Thornton’s career since he was selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He added weight this offseason in hopes to avoid them.

CB Marcus Jones

Jones declared himself 100% early in the spring but was limited throughout OTAs and minicamp.

It’s unclear if his absence is still related to the torn labrum suffered early in the 2023 season, but he’s another undersized player, like Thornton, who has had trouble staying on the field.

It would have been nice to see him in practice to determine if Mayo and Covington view him as more of a slot or outside option. His size – 5-foot-8, 188 pounds – would indicate he’s a better option in the slot. The Patriots have preferred to play him outside since he was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

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