Patriots: 5 things to watch for at Patriots, Panthers joint practices

The Carolina Panthers are in town the next two days for joint practices with the Patriots.

Joint practices have become a fixture across the league in recent years. Teams that are facing each other in a pre-season game will get together the week of the game for two practices.

The practices are a good opportunity for the coaching staffs of both teams teams to evaluate their teams against different competition. It also makes the process of determining who stays on the roster clearer.

The Panthers come into town with a coach on the hot seat in Matt Rhule and a quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. The competition is still on going and these practices will allow Rhule and his offensive staff to further evaluate both quarterbacks.

For the Patriots, it is an opportunity to see their zone running game and new offensive terminology in action against a different opponent. The offense looked fine on Thursday night against the Giants but the Panthers front seven will be tough to run on. It will be good for Bill Belichick and the offensive coaches to get some stuff on film so they can correct it.

Here are five things we’ll be watching at this week’s joint practices against the Panthers.

1. Line play: Can the offensive line keep improving? They have been on an upward trajectory the past week but this Carolina defensive line led by Brian Burns and Derek Brown will present some challenges.

2. How the Patriots run the ball: The running game has been a sore spot thus far in training camp. The Patriots have not run the ball well. As previously mentioned, the Panthers front seven is good. They will present some schematically problems for the Patriots. It will be a good opportunity to see how New England’s zone running game looks against an active and disruptive front seven.

3. Carolina quarterback competition: This will be the focal point of these joint practices. Baker Mayfield seems to be the leader in the clubhouse but Sam Darnold played well enough against the Washington Commanders on Saturday to stay in the running. These joint practices will be a good opportunity for both quarterbacks to showcase their talent against one of the best defenses in the league.

4. The receivers: The Patriots veteran receivers didn’t get any action against the Giants so this will be our first opportunity to see them in action against an opposing secondary.

It is also an opportunity to see young receivers like Tre Nixon and Tyquan Thornton compete against a good secondary like Carolina’s. A secondary that features Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn.

Of course seeing Mac Jones and the other quarterbacks throw against this secondary will be a focal point as well.

5. Pace of practices: How much will both coaching staffs push their teams? We’re entering the dog days of camp now. These joint practices are designed to break up the monotony of training camp but more importantly, they are a tremendous evaluation tool.

I would expect uptempo practices where both teams get their players a lot of reps and ramp up the evaluation process. Remember. Teams can start making cuts today.