Bledsoe is an early standout after a strong first week at Training Camp.Evan Lazar
The biggest takeaway from the first week of Patriots Training Camp is that New England's defense is already showing glimpses of its potential.
In Saturday's session, a perfect example of how things have looked at times during full-team drills (11-on-11s) came on the second-to-last play of practice. As quarterback Mac Jones held the ball searching for an open target, Jones forced a pass to DeVante Parker when safety Kyle Dugger stepped in front of Parker and returned an interception for a pick-six.
Dugger had his ups-and-downs covering Patriots tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith this week, but the play capped off another dominant end to practice in red zone work for the defense.
Although Dugger had the play of the day, one of the standout defensive backs in the first week of camp is second-year safety, Joshuah Bledsoe. Bledsoe has competed in a Patrick Chung-like role where he primarily covers tight ends and low zones but occasionally plays deep safety.
Despite practicing during the three-week injured reserve window, the 2021 sixth-round pick sat out his entire rookie season due to a wrist injury. Now fully recovered, Bledsoe had tight coverage and made several plays on the ball through the first four days of the summer.
"I'm having a lot of fun out there. It feels good to be out there with my teammates," Bledsoe told reporters after Saturday's practice. "You make plays that just build your confidence. But I try to take it play-by-play and just give it my all."
Earlier this week, Bledsoe was in the area on three incompletions where it appeared he got a hand on the ball. One of those passes was intended for Jonnu Smith, but Bledsoe was all over the Pats' tight end and knocked the pass away. He also looks comfortable driving on throws in the flat as a zone coverage defender.
Bledsoe's teammates credited the Missouri product for his study habits during his year off, and based on his play speed in camp this year, the time invested mentally as a rookie is paying off.
"Last year, I was locked in mentally, so it's just carried over to the field, and I'm able to play fast," Bledsoe told Patriots.com. "We are all versatile. We can all play whatever spot and make it hard on the quarterback. We line up in one position one time, and then another set comes by, and we switched it up."
One of the Patriots defense's strengths this season is a deep and versatile safety group. As Bledsoe alluded to, New England's flexibility in the backend should allow them to rotate the coverage shell after the snap to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
Bledsoe continues to play a role that overlaps with Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips's usage over the years, and the second-year Patriot is trying to pick things up from the vets' games.
"I just watch their game and try to add a little bit to my game," Bledsoe said.
Along those lines, arguably the best safety in the tight end-stopper and hybrid role was former Patriot standout Patrick Chung. Although it's an unfair comparison at this stage, it's common for players to pull up old game film of former Pats legends to see how they approached a role the coaches are asking the current players like Bledsoe to play in the system.
Asked if he had watched any of Chung's old tape, Bledsoe said with a smile, "yeah, a little bit."
For Patriots fans tracking jersey numbers at home, a trip down to Gillette Stadium to take in a Training Camp practice will show that Bledsoe is currently wearing number 24 in blue.
Height: 5-11Weight: 201 lbsCollege: Missouri
The number, of course, has quite the history in New England thanks to Hall of Famer Ty Law, former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, and Super Bowl champ Darrelle Revis.
As one would expect, Bledsoe is looking to write his own story and isn't getting caught up in the no. 24 legends.
"I know of all the great players that have worn the number before me, but I'm just going out there playing my game. That's going to speak for itself," Bledsoe said.
As fans track tweets and reports coming out of Foxboro, the defense's sometimes dominant play begs the question: is the defense just that good, or is the Pats offense struggling?
The answer is a complicated one that needs proper context. For example, the offensive line is practicing with oven mitt-like pads on their hands and isn't repping at full contact, which hurts their chances to build a clean pocket for the quarterbacks. Plus, without full pads, the defense knows a pass is coming on every play since there's zero threat of a running game.
With the Patriots scheduled to put the pads on next week, takeaways from Training Camp sessions become more accurate depictions of what we could see this fall.
Still, it's always noteworthy when young players such as Bledsoe emerge as potential core contributors in the early stages of Training Camp.