FOXBOROUGH — Kendrick Bourne is aware of what critics think of the Patriots’ wide receivers group.
The veteran punctuated his media availability after Sunday’s practice session by paraphrasing a local reporter who described the performance of the receiving corps early in training camp as “stink, stank, and stunk” in a TV appearance.
Asked by that same reporter about second-year pass catcher Tyquan Thornton, Bourne redirected, replying with “stink, stunk, and stank” before walking off with a smile.
The 28-year-old is part of a group that struggled earlier in the summer but has certainly come around lately, helping spark the offense on several occasions.
“We’ve got a lot of doubters. We’ve got a lot to prove. I’m excited, man. It’s good to be the underdog sometimes because they don’t know we’re coming,” Bourne said. “We put in the work. Behind closed doors, you know, a lot of things are said, but we know how we feel, we know what we’re capable of. And it’s not just us receivers. It’s all of us as a group.”
Bourne is coming off a rough 2022. He finished the season with 35 catches for 434 yards and a touchdown, and clearly never clicked with the offensive scheme, saying in the spring he “didn’t give the team my best effort” last year. The 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pounder said things are a lot more comfortable now, and with the preseason opener only a few days away — Thursday night against the Texans at Gillette Stadium — he’s confident with the direction of the passing game.
“We’re very comfortable, I feel like, in the sense of knowing what we’re doing and being on the same page,” he said. “Just growing each and every day, [and] we’re going in the right direction.
“I think we’re in a good place. It just feels good getting through camp healthy. I feel like we’re doing good with our bodies overall. So, getting into a game week, a game feel, it feels exciting. It feels good to be back in football mode.”
Can’t tell the offensive line without a scorecard
The offensive line has struggled with health and continuity over the first week-plus of training camp, as right guard Mike Onwenu remains on the physically unable to perform list. On Sunday, starting left guard Cole Strange and center David Andrews weren’t spotted, while starting left tackle Trent Brown was limited.
In their place was a grouping that included rookie Atonio Mafi, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA. Mafi replaced Strange, while veteran James Ferentz stepped in at center, Kody Russey was at right guard, and Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott continued to get the bulk of the reps at left and right tackle.
It was a rough stretch for the offensive line against the starting defense, which included Matthew Judon for the first real 11-on-11 action of the summer. Judon would have finished with multiple sacks, while Ja’Whaun Bentley, Anfernee Jennings, Lawrence Guy, and Diego Fagot would also have registered sacks against the backup OL.
The 6-3, 330-pound Mafi, who took a limited amount of reps with a reasonable facsimile of the starting offensive line earlier in camp, acknowledges that it’s all part of the process.
“Obviously, right off the bat, you understand that you’re not in college anymore, so your technique has to be improved when you’re going against more experienced guys,” Mafi said. “That’s the biggest thing for me; just honing in on that and trying to get better there.
“It’s a learning experience. Obviously, it’s going to take a lot of work. But it’s kind of what you expect. The only thing is just trying to get your routine down and try and stick to it.”
‘Always good to see teammates get paid’
Several players expressed support for Judon and the linebacker’s new deal. “It’s always good to see teammates get paid,” said defensive lineman Davon Godchaux. “Well deserved. An outstanding player. Great seasons the last two years. So it’s always good to see someone get rewarded when they go out there and work hard.” … Cornerback Jack Jones abruptly left practice Thursday, and as he was walking off the field, veteran defensive back Jabrill Peppers could be seen with his arm around Jones, talking to his younger teammate. On Sunday, Peppers was asked what he said to Jones. “I was just giving him some wisdom. He’s an ultracompetitive kid. Just giving him some wisdom,” Peppers said. “It’s football. It’s training camp. Things come up. Things happen. That’s all part of football.” … Roughly two-thirds of the way through practice, Bill Belichick called a timeout and had the defense run a lap. “Just no mental mistakes,” Peppers said of the message in that moment from the coach. “We know as a defense why we ran that lap, and we’re going to continue run that lap if we keep doing what we did. It’s just, ‘Hold every man accountable — player to coach. Coach to player.’ I understand why we did it as a unit.” … Malik Cunningham continues to try and make the roster as a wide receiver, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up on being a quarterback. He did see some reps at QB late in practice, and lined up behind center during an unopposed scout-team period as most of the veteran players were going through their post-practice stretch … Sunday’s playlist was heavy on the classic hits from the 1980s, including Van Halen, Queen, Journey, and Michael Jackson … The Patriots return to the practice field Monday with a 1 p.m. session. Gates open for fans at 12 p.m. For more information, check out patriots.com/trainingcamp.