For what it’s worth, Patriots rookie N’Keal Harry looks sharp in OTAs
FOXBOROUGH — As the classic rock reverberated through the extra-large speakers on the practice fields at One Patriot Place, it was some of the new kids on the block who were making the loudest noises.
Patriots rookies N’Keal Harry, Joejuan Williams, Chase Winovich, and Jake Bailey turned in some of the most impressive performances during Thursday’s OTA practice.
It’s unfair to that quartet — and to all the other players, for that matter — to draw any conclusions from a midweek, nonpadded practice in May, but it is fair to say that, upon first glance, they looked perfectly comfortable in their new environs.
Harry led the receiving corps with five catches on nine targets during team drills.
Appropriately enough, the first-round pick from Arizona State caught his first pass while “Shipping up to Boston,” was cranking. The pass came from Danny Etling and at the expense of cornerback Williams, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt.
Harry consistently gained separation — a perceived predraft problem — and also made contested catches in traffic, though it’s important to note defenders can’t really get physical during these practices.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 213-pound Harry did have one drop but the other incompletions on his targets were not on him as the quarterbacks sailed several spirals out of his reach.
His gold-medal play was a back-of-the-end zone touchdown catch on a terrific back-shoulder throw from fellow rookie Jarrett Stidham. A contested catch from Etling with Williams and Keionta Davis in coverage would have taken the silver. For the bronze, he made a diving end zone catch from Brian Hoyer despite decent coverage from Keion Crossen.
Harry’s size, strength, and calmness during the chaos make him an ideal red-zone threat. He plays a different position, but he could help ease the transition to a Rob Gronkowski-less offense.
“Coaches have just been trying to show me different techniques to help me get open, so I’m just trying to apply that every day when I come out there,’’ said Harry, who feels like his route-running — a must if he is to build a quick rapport with Tom Brady — has already improved just by watching Julian Edelman work.
“As a wide receiver, my job is just to get separation, get open, and catch the ball. So, that’s my main focus every time I step out there and on every play I take part in.’’
Williams’s size (6-3, 208 pounds) makes him stand out in the cornerback group. He’s a very fluid athlete with good instincts. Williams matched up frequently with Harry and gave a glimpse of what should be some very competitive battles between the rookies this spring and into the summer.
Williams had some missteps, but generally acquitted himself well and had a pass breakup and capped the team drills by picking off Stidham’s end-zone pass intended for Damoun Patterson.
Winovich’s trademark flowing golden locks and relentless motor were on display. The third-rounder was quick off the edge, consistently getting into the backfield. Under full-padded, full-contact conditions, Winovich likely would have registered a pair of sacks.
Bailey took full advantage of being the lone punter at practice (Ryan Allen was a surprise absence) and was blasting bombs throughout the day. The fifth-round pick showed tremendous height and distance on his kicks. Add in a tricky wind, and the returners — including Edelman and Harry — had a difficult time fielding his initial kicks.
Bailey also worked on his holding skills, with Stephen Gostkowski acting as a long snapper, and kickoffs, something he excelled at during his time at Stanford.
Bailey will give Allen, who signed a one-year deal, his second straight camp battle after the veteran had to stave off a summer challenge from Corey Bojorquez last year.
A few other observations.
■ The quarterback play wasn’t very crisp. Hoyer went 9 of 13 with an interception (by defensive lineman Adam Butler), Etling 6 of 11, and Stidham 5 of 13 with a pick.
Etling did have a nice TD pass to Ben Watson, who looked pretty darned spry for a 16-year veteran, leaping high over a pair of defenders for the snag.
Stidham struggled with some indecisiveness, happy feet, and overthrows. Under live conditions, the fourth-rounder would have been sacked a few times.
■ Stalwart left guard Joe Thuney played left tackle with the first-teamers. Thuney, who played some tackle in college, could be in the mix to play there or he could just be holding the spot with Isaiah Wynn absent and Jared Veldheer retiring suddenly.
■ Coaches were in midseason form, as several rookies caught their wrath for missed assignments. During a ball-security drill, one staffer sensed a lack of enthusiasm and yelled, “Don’t be nice!’’ in one newbie’s ear.
■ Butler and Derek Rivers each got sent on penalty laps for jumping offside.
■ For the record, the classic rock selections included “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses; “For Those About To Rock” by AC/DC; “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks; and U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.’’