Proceed with caution: Don’t get too crazy with Patriots minicamp thoughts

Ryan Hannable
June 07, 2017 - 11:59 pm

It's worth noting minicamp observations should have context. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Tom Brady reared back and launched a pass almost as far as he could down the field and connected perfectly with newly acquired wide out Brandin Cooks for a roughly 60-yard touchdown in 7-on-7 play during Wednesday’s minicamp session. 

It was a terrific throw and showed what Cooks can bring to the offense when it comes to the vertical passing game, but while social media went crazy imagining the sight in every game next season, it’s important to note the context. 

The play came in 7-on-7 drills with no pass rush and no contact allowed. So, not exactly the same conditions that will occur come next September and the regular season, or even training camp next month for that matter.

Minicamp is a glorified passing camp. Judging interior line play is impossible without any contact and the same goes for running backs with running plays. Defenders can’t tackle, so it’s hard to say who is performing well on that side of the ball, as well. 

It’s really all about the skill positions getting on the same page when it comes to the passing game and the secondary doing their best to stop them. Even this needs to be taken with a grain of salt because the compete level without pads the first week of June just isn’t going to match September and the first time the pads go on for the regular season.

Stats are the same way. Some passes that get logged as completions in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 settings in reality are sacks or throwing the ball away because quarterbacks sometimes take upwards of 10 seconds to get rid of the ball. Obviously, this doesn’t happen in a live game. Some running backs may get a lot of catches, but some of this is them being a check down option and the third or fourth option on a route.

“Stop talking about shorts and t-shirts” running backs coach Ivan Fears said last month prior to the first OTA session open to the media. “Everybody looks good in shorts and t-shirts. Come on, man. Jeez. I better look good in shorts and t-shirts. Well, I’ve got to take that back. But, no, seriously, you know it doesn’t count.”

To this, some may say well why do teams even have OTAs and minicamp, and why does the media continue to cover it?

For the media, it’s a chance to see the team for the first time on the field since the previous season, and a chance to take note of a few things.

What if Brady and Cooks were not connecting on passes because of wrong routes, poor chemistry, etc.? This would certainly be noteworthy because if they couldn’t get on the same page in this kind of setting, how could they against a real defense? In the first OTA session open to the media, Cyrus Jones had issues catching punts. This was noteworthy given his struggles last season. (He has improved greatly with this in the two minicamp sessions). There are certainly some things at these sessions for the media to take note of.

As for the team itself, it’s a teaching camp. It’s a chance to get everyone on the same page when it comes to plays and schemes so when training camp rolls around and the pads get strapped on, it’s all about competition and trying to find the best 53 players for the final roster.

“It’s a teaching camp,” Bill Belichick said prior to Wednesday’s session. “It’s an opportunity to get plays installed, do a lot of team work. The contact part of the game, some of the individual fundamentals are going to have to wait until training camp. We’ll get to that at that time and then we’ll execute them at a competitive level and see how it goes.”

It’s important to keep this in mind when trying to jump to conclusions from minicamp. 

For instance, just because Stephon Gilmore wasn’t lining up opposite Malcolm Butler on most of the 11-on-11 plays, it doesn’t mean Gilmore isn’t viewed as the No. 1 or 2 cornerback. It’s just the team having players get the chance to work with everyone. The same goes for the offense. 

Seeing new running back Mike Gillislee working with Jacoby Brissett more than Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo is likely because he’s more of a power running back and the other quarterbacks’ time during minicamp is more useful to be spent with the pass-catching running backs. If it’s the third week of training camp and this is the case, then maybe it’s time to be alarmed. Not during minicamp.

Also, trying to come up with who is above who in positional rankings based on the sessions is nearly impossible just because of all the mixing and matching that gets done within each drill and activity. After all, it’s a teaching camp. It’s not supposed to be executed at a high, high level. In other words, what happens on the field this week from a competition perspective has very little impact on the final 53-man roster come September.

“I think that whatever happens will be decided by whatever the players earn in training camp,” Belichick said. “I mean, nobody’s going to make the team out here in this week or next week. It’s not what this is for, but it will put them in position to compete later on and then we’ll see what happens.”

This isn’t to suggest OTAs and minicamps are useless, just don’t get too carried away with what you see and hear. Training camp is just over a month away.

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