FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The second day of Patriots training camp featured a heavy workload from arguably the highest-profile free agent the club brought in this offseason: JuJu Smith-Schuster. The veteran wide receiver, who signed a three-year, $33 million deal with New England in March, was peppered by quarterback Mac Jones during one of the more competitive periods of the day.
Similar to Day 1 of camp, the Patriots almost exclusively worked on their red zone offense. During the more competitive 11-on-11 period, there was a stretch where Jones zeroed in on his new weapon, targeting him on four of his five dropbacks. They were able to connect on two of those throws as Smith-Schuster sparred with first-round corner Christian Gonzalez in what was the most entertaining aspect of Thursday's session. Later, during Jones' second series in 11s, he again found Smith-Schuster, who was able to beat second-year corner Marcus Jones for a touchdown.
While Smith-Schuster has worked as one of New England's top two wideouts thus far in camp, there was a noticeable uptick in targets on Thursday, which may have been intentional. After all, the 26-year-old missed key period of the offseason program as he was rehabbing a knee injury he suffered during the Chiefs Super Bowl run last season. With that in mind, it makes sense that there may have been an emphasis for him and Jones to push the pedal over the early days of camp to quickly begin building up a rapport.
"There's been a lot of good work," he said of his relationship with Jones after practice. "It's been the second day for you guys to see, but we've been putting in a lot of good work this offseason."
Smith-Schuster added that Jones is "super intelligent" and put the quarterback's work ethic up against any quarterback he's played with. As for the communication, the wideout also commended Jones and said that "there's no gray area in this offense."
"We speak about it, we talk about it, we fix it and we move on," he said.
Specifically, Smith-Schuster was seeing the bulk of his time working on the inside and seemed quite comfortable in that role. Upon signing with the team, the prevailing thought was that he would serve as a big slot within Bill O'Brien's offense and, so far, that has proven to be correct.
"The slot position has been a big tradition here with Troy [Brown] to [Julian] Edelman to all these great guys," he said. "It's an honor to play that position. To be able to play inside, outside, moving around, but having the opportunity to say that I'm one of these guys is really nice."
In terms of his health, Smith-Schuster said he feels "amazing" and hasn't seemed to be limited, so that time away from the club during the offseason program has seemingly allowed him to hit the ground running in camp.
"JuJu's great to work with, a really smart kid, a lot of experience, done a lot of different things," Bill Belichick said when asked about his first impressions of his new receive before practice. "It's merging them into some of the things that we do. Some of those are the same, some are different, some are new. Some things that he's doing we're incorporating into what we're doing because he's had success with them, but he's great to work with. He's always ready to go, very alert, attentive, smart kid. So, we're glad we have him
More from Day 2
- Continuing the wide receiver talk, it's been pretty much as expected in terms of the masthead atop the depth chart. Through two days of camp, Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker appear to be the top two options at the position followed by Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton. That said, Thornton has been quiet to start camp after nursing a reported soft tissue injury this offseason.
- Quarterback stats: During the more competitive 11-on-11 drills, I had Mac Jones completing six of his 10 passes, which were entirely in the red zone. During a 7-on-7s period, Jones connected on just one of his four attempts, but the context there is that the Patriots were singularly working on fades to the back right end of the end zone. As for Bailey Zappe, the second-year quarterback went 7 of 11 during 11s against the second-team defense and consisted of more high-percentage throws.
- The best throw of the day came during Jones' first 11-on-11 period. His first throw of the sessions was a beautiful rainbow pass to DeVante Parker. Jones was able to drop the ball in the bucket as Parker beat Gonzalez in coverage for the score.
- For the second-consecutive day, safety Kyle Dugger was able to get the better of Mac Jones, picking him off in the red zone. Dugger picked off Jones on his first throw of camp on Wednesday.
- With Bill O'Brien coming aboard, the tight end position is expected to be heavily featured in New England's offense this season. in turn, it's not surprising to see Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki share the field a solid amount through two days of camp. Meanwhile, fellow tight end Matt Sokol had one of the best catches of the day Thursday, beating Jalen Mills for a touchdown from Bailey Zappe during 7-on-7s.
- It was a busy day for second-year cornerback Marcus Jones. He was getting a shot working with veterans as an outside corner opposite of Christian Gonzalez. He also was fielding kickoffs as well. Jones showed last season that he can be an extremely versatile piece within New England's ecosystem and it appears that could carry over on special teams and defense in 2023.
- As for Jack Jones, he continues to work with the reserves. That could simply be due to his uncertain status heading into the season due to his where he's set to appear in court next month on weapons charges. When he was on the field, however, he was able to break up a throw from Bailey Zappe.
- While Belichick will naturally have his hands in every piece of the Patriots operation, I did notice him giving Marcus Jones some individual one-on-one coaching as he was practicing kickoffs. The head coach was also putting a heavy eye on the offense and was even getting into the huddle when the first unit was out there, likely listening in on what play the team was running.
- Rookie safety Marte Mapu -- who impressed throughout OTA and minicamp -- continues to wear the red non-contact jersey. His status once training camp transitions to full pads will be interesting to monitor.
- Star pass rusher Matthew Judon was limited for the second straight day.
- Before practice, as Bill Belichick was holding his press conference, reports surfaced that free agent running back Dalvin Cook was set to visit the New York Jets. There was another report from ESPN that noted the Patriots were also trying to coordinate a visit to New England. When asked about it, Belichick didn't divulge any plans the team may or may not have: "Yeah, I'm not going to talk about players that aren't on our team. That's a long standing policy that I'm going to continue to stick with."