When Marcus Cannon decided to opt out of the 2020 season, it left the Patriots without an obvious replacement at right tackle. They have several options on the roster, but none with much, if any, NFL experience.
But Jermaine Eluemunor, a fourth-year veteran who was a little-used backup for the Patriots last season, appears to be a big winner this training camp. He is getting a lot of work at right tackle, and ultimately could be one of Cam Newton’s five protectors when the Patriots face the Dolphins in less than two weeks.
Bill Belichick had praise for Eluemunor when asked about his progress Monday morning.
“He’s had obviously more of an opportunity without Marcus here, so he’s done a good job,” Belichick said. “He’s certainly shown a lot of growth, and the extra reps have given him more confidence and more of an opportunity to improve and work with his teammates in terms of communication and picking up line stunts and games and things like that. He’s shown a lot of progress.”
Eluemunor, listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 335 pounds, has a year’s worth of knowledge of the Patriots offense, and the versatility that Belichick values. Originally a fifth-round pick of the Ravens in 2017, Eluemunor started two games at right guard as a rookie and one game at left tackle in 2018, and said he can play any position on the line except center.
The Ravens traded Eluemunor to the Patriots at the end of 2019 training camp; he and a sixth-round pick were swapped for a fourth-rounder.
Eluemunor appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, getting 29 snaps on offense and 39 on special teams. But spending last year in the system seems to be giving him a leg up on most of his competitors, such as Yodny Cajuste and Justin Herron, who have never played an NFL snap.
The only other veteran tackles are Korey Cunningham, who like Eluemunor was acquired via trade late last August, and Ben Braden, who has mostly been a practice squad player the last two years.
“He’s got a pretty good background on our offensive system, our terminology and all that,” Belichick said. “He’s an experienced player without a lot of game experience on our field. He’s played tackle and guard, so he’s a pretty experienced, versatile lineman that’s had an opportunity to compete all training camp here.”
Eluemunor said he made sure he came to training camp in great shape, and feels much more confident in the playbook.
“Getting traded as late as I did last year, it was my job to catch up quickly and be ready for any situation I was thrown into,” he said recently. “And obviously, I feel better this year having more time. With COVID and everything and quarantine, I had more time to really dig into the playbook.”
The Patriots had several noteworthy absences from Monday’s practice, and one new addition.
In addition to Cam Newton missing his first practice of the season (it reportedly was excused), the Patriots also were without center David Andrews, left tackle Isaiah Wynn, and running back Damien Harris. Nose tackle Beau Allen, defensive lineman Michael Barnett, and cornerback Michael Jackson also were missing.
But veteran running back Lamar Miller practiced for the first time after getting activated from the physically unable to perform list. Miller, entering his ninth NFL season, missed all of last year with a torn ACL.
Safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips and receiver Jakobi Meyers also appeared to be limited in practice.
Monday marked the first time this summer that the media were not allowed to watch the entire practice, as the Patriots transitioned from training camp to “regular season” rules. But the Patriots are still not required to release an injury report until next week.
Talk wasn’t cheap
The Patriots didn’t cancel any practices last week in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin, but Brian Hoyer said the players had some productive discussions.
“Look, it’s more important than football,” said Hoyer, a 12-year veteran. “My wife always jokes I’m not a very empathetic person, but when you sit there and you see a tear running down Devin McCourty’s face …
“To be able to sit in the locker room and talk for 25-30 minutes and say, ‘I hear you, I’m here for you, what can we do to help?’ Like I said, there’s something special about being in this locker room. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet better leaders than Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater.”
Picking his spots
Hoyer had humorous insight into rookie quarterback Brian Lewerke, who, like Hoyer was 12 years ago, is an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State.
“He’s a good combination of being seen not heard, as we always say rookies should be,” said Hoyer, “but also speaking up and asking good questions and having some good input.
“He’s a very smart kid, he asks a lot of great questions. Obviously being a fellow Spartan, I always try to take him under my wing.”