Here’s a look at the August Finals before head coach Bill Belichick’s roster turns to the 53-player NFL deadline and Week 1.
An eventful end to the pre-season for No. 10
Joint workouts with former Raiders offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels preceded the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff. But it wasn’t the regular season yet for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. The sophomore starter hit wide receivers DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers on the early inclines fast. He also went for 13 yards and had a touchdown over the edge canceled out by offensive pass interference.
Pocket comfort, however, proved hard to come by for an offense facing growing pains. Defensive ends Malcolm Koonce and Tashawn Bower hit home for sacks. And an off-platform, action-play interception in the middle by linebacker Luke Masterson surfaced between the three and outs.
The No. 10 finished the night completing 9 of 13 passes for 71 yards to go along with the turnover. Brian Hoyer relieved him by the fifth series. The entrenched New England backup went 6 of 7 for 47 yards in the exhibition. Rookie Bailey Zappe then took over the huddle in the third quarter. Houston Baptist’s transfer to Western Kentucky closed the contest 10 of 14 for 84 yards, and with a sail interception recovered by Patriot-turned-Raider Isaiah Zuber.
Montgomery’s outing puts eyes on the depth of the backfield
Ty Montgomery was helped off the field after a four-yard gain midway through the first quarter. The experienced rusher-slash receiver was carried to the locker room. He was ruled out by the Patriots with an ankle injury after intermission.
It peeled away layers in a running room led by Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. JJ Taylor did his part by recording 29 yards from scrimmage on a handful of touches. The 5-foot-6, 185-pound fullback also displayed one-on-one hustle during a fumble recovery and dated special teams. Kevin Harris also had his turn against the Raiders. The South Carolina rookie powerhouse took its first 33-yard run to the end zone gate on a trap play and fumbled on its final attempt. He rushed for a team-high 54 yards on just four carries.
If Pierre Strong Jr. hadn’t been drafted in the fourth round, it would be fair to wonder in recent weeks how big the gap between the players is. The South Dakota State FCS All-American tested his 40-yard time of 4.37 seconds on kickoff returns and turned four offensive opportunities into 17 yards.
Undrafted candidates present their final case
For the past 18 years, one undrafted rookie has resided on New England’s initial active roster. A select group of arrivals in May have applied to continue the streak.
Center Kody Russey had seen 77% of the offensive snaps in Game 2 of the preseason. On Friday, the 60-game starter and captain of Louisiana Tech and Houston was called up to the third quarter. He struggled to the goal line. Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray, once a five-star Alabama rookie, also bulldozed former teammate Alex Leatherwood to set up a sack by current teammate Daniel Ekuale. And outside linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell, whose strip-sack in the end zone last week proved as remarkable as his work on the top coverage unit, offered more of the same. The Purdue product chased quarterback Chase Garbers out of the pocket and punt returner Justin Hall out of bounds in the fourth quarter.
Safety Brenden Schooler retained his prime spot on special teams as a personal protector and recorded a pair of tackles. The super senior by Oregon, Arizona and Texas did so after taking down a punt four yards from the end zone and intercepting a pass against the Carolina Panthers.
In the seam or on the sidelines, Humphrey’s role is worth watching
No Patriots wide receiver had caught more passes in two preseason outings than the one described as a “tight type of guy” by his head coach.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey is a bit of everything at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. A big lunge on offense and a big gunner on the punt unit, he entered the final with 11 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown to go with a double-team dive to save a touchdown.
Two quiet receptions for seven yards were tallied from there in Las Vegas, where special teams remained in the cards. But with rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thornton’s collarbone injury setting up a procedural move to injured reserve, a fifth-place finish on the depth chart looms. Prior to signing the June gap between mandatory minicamp and training camp, Humphrey had played 18 games over three years as a member of the New Orleans Saints. His top competitor, Tre Nixon, caught two passes for 32 yards on Friday. Another former member of Kristian Wilkerson’s practice squad did not make the trip due to a concussion.
The O-line mix continues in the summer finale
New England’s starting offensive line against Las Vegas would include throwing: Trent Brown at left tackle, Cole Strange at left guard, David Andrews at center, Mike Onwenu at right guard and Isaiah Wynn at right tackle.
Onwenu, now in his third campaign, was penalized for a hold on an outside run. But subsequent substitutions have provided a snapshot of what remains to be sorted. Nine blockers survived the 53-man reduction last Labor Day weekend for the Patriots.
Swing bookends Justin Herron and Yodny Cadjust scored the next names to rank in the top five. They did it on the left and right respectively, midway through the second quarter, against the grain of previous practice. A blind sack and forced fumble followed. Arlington Hambright, James Ferentz and Will Sherman joined the inside line before halftime. Undrafted Russey and sixth-round guard Chasen Hines turned quickly in a game that saw the Raiders score four sacks.
Window closes for 2020 Patriots third round
The Patriots waived Dalton Keene before the reduction to 80 active players. And in the final, the tight end who had 10 caps ahead of him in the third round of the 2020 draft was also not on hand.
Devin Asiasi had caught three passes in a two-minute drive last week before his absence in Las Vegas. Without the UCLA product, which is dealing with a minor quad injury, per Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan, snaps were created for veteran Matt Sokol and rookie Jalen Wydermyer on both offensive and special teams. That last tight end was flagged for a hold call that wiped out a scoring dive.
Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are the only locks on the depth chart. They were on the field for the starting drive staffed “12” and had three receptions for 28 yards.
Secondary starters take on former New England quarterback
Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Kyle Dugger and Devin McCourty were given the high school go-ahead on Friday. The starters at cornerback and safety did it against Las Vegas quarterback Jarrett Stidham, and the 2019 fourth-round pick completed 4 of 6 passes for 72 yards against the organization that drafted him.
A 45-yard deep post ensued after his night under center ended. Veteran defensive back Terrance Mitchell had outside leverage with no help from inside coverage, but then broke a tilt to force a fourth before halftime. Joining him on the outside was aggressive Arizona State rookie Jack Jones, who had a pass breakup with a forced fumble.
His cornermate Shaun Wade would not be in uniform against the Raiders. The 2021 commercial acquisition of the Baltimore Ravens had picked up a assist last week before becoming a limited participant in practice.
Punt returns to Paul Hornung award winners
Patriots rookie cornerback Marcus Jones returned two punts for 32 yards in the final. The No. 85 overall pick did so after tying an NCAA record with nine career touchdowns in the return game between stops at Troy and Houston.
He was joined in that role by Jabrill Peppers, Michigan’s 2016 unanimous All-American safety, who suffered a torn ACL last October with the New York Giants and flew in his first preseason action.
Both have won the Paul Hornung award, rewarding the most versatile player in the country, during their university careers. The two got a long run on defense starting in the third quarter Friday, combining for 10 tackles.