After a few years of bad drafts, the Patriots seemed to make a breakthrough in 2021 with the selections of Mac Jones, Christian Barmore and Rhamondre Stevenson. While the Patriots surprised many with their pick of Cole Strange in the first round, he has taken over the starting position at left guard since the beginning of camp. Wideout Tyquan Thornton showed promise before breaking his collarbone while defensive backs Jack Jones and Marcus Jones shined during the preseason. Here’s how the rookies performed in Sunday’s loss in Miami.
Cole Strange, C
Strange was regarded as a force in the running game coming out of college and that was on display at times on Sunday. When Strange was in the game, the Patriots ran the ball 8 times to the left side for 46 yards, a 5.8 average. Pass blocking, however, was a different story. On the second possession, the Patriots had 1st and 10 at the Miami 40-yard line when Strange missed an assignment leading to a 9-yard sack, which killed the drive. Strange blocked down on the nose tackle with center David Andrews, allowing Emmanuel Ogbah a free rush to take down Mac Jones. On the next possession, a free rusher came off the left side to force a Jones fumble that was returned for a touchdown. This seems to be more on left tackle Trent Brown but the miscommunication led to James Ferentz replacing Strange for the rest of the half as the rookie was seemingly benched.
Jack Jones, C-
Jones was only on the field for 11 out of the 60 plays the Miami offense ran but had two chances to make plays and whiffed on them both. The biggest play Jones had a chance to make came on the Dolphin touchdown drive right before the half when he almost had his first career interception. Jones was in great position as Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa forced a pass into coverage, but wide receiver Tyreek Hill was able to wrestle it away for a 26-yard gain into Patriot territory. An interception there would have given the Patriots the ball in Miami territory right before the half with a chance to get on the scoreboard. The second play Jones missed came after the Patriots scored to make it 17-7 in the third quarter. As Miami began their drive, Tagovailoa hit Cedrick Wilson on a swing pass with Jones in pursuit. Jones missed on the tackle as Wilson picked up 8 yards and the Dolphins got a field goal to push their lead to 20-7.
Brenden Schooler, B+
A big reason why the Patriots were able to cut Justin Bethel was due to the emergence of the undrafted free agent Schooler on special teams. Schooler lined up as the gunner opposite Matthew Slater on Sunday and did a good job, as the Dolphins did not return a single one of Jake Bailey’s 3 punts with all of them pinning the Dolphins inside their own 10-yard line.
Marcus Jones, Incomplete
The other rookie defensive back only saw the field for 4 defensive snaps and did not have the chance to make any plays.
Inactives: Bailey Zappe, Pierre Strong, Sam Roberts and Chasen Hines
The outlook for the Patriots rookies could be much different with the addition of the speedy Thornton to a wide receiver group that is struggling. I expect Strange to continue to improve with each week as he gets acclimated to life in the NFL and it wouldn’t shock me if either of the Jones’ is able to play a larger role in the secondary as the season progresses. But for now, it was a less than stellar start for the rookies.