Practice is twice the fun
Patriots, Saints share the field
FOXBOROUGH — For the first time in a decade, the Patriots welcomed an opposing team to their training camp, taking part in the first two of three joint practices with the Saints yesterday.
Saints owner Tom Benson chatted with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees, who have three Super Bowl MVP trophies between them, went through their paces.
The practices — the last is this morning at 9 — served as a change of pace for both teams. New England and New Orleans began their training camps July 29, and the Patriots had 19 practices of varying intensity before yesterday.
The coaches can watch film and make evaluations, but players are frequently lined up against the same teammates. Having another team in camp provides the opportunity to see them perform against different players, who have varying strengths and weaknesses.
It also provided the Patriots and Saints players the opportunity to tangle with new faces, ones they don’t have to see nearly every day for the next five months.
And the fact that New Orleans is reigning Super Bowl champion just increased the interest level.
“It’s neat scrimmaging against them just because of the simple fact of what they accomplished last year as a football team and an organization,’’ said Kevin Faulk, a Louisiana native. “As far as the competition level, they are the best in the business right now, so to compare your team and compete against the best in the business, that’s one thing you want to do.’’
The practices followed a similar script to New England’s usual practice: warmups, position drills, one-on-ones, special teams work, seven-on-seven scrimmages, and full-team work, including two-minute and red zone drills.
But the pace was a little quicker, and though there was no live tackling, there was plenty of bumping and a few knockdowns, particularly in the afternoon session.
“What’s pretty neat about this deal is that you’re not really sure what they’re going to do,’’ Patriots quarterbacks coach/de facto offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “It’s preseason. They’re not really sure what we’re going to do. So it gives us coaches [on both sides] a good chance to go back in and say, ‘OK, here’s what they did to take advantage of this.’ And come back out and make some adjustments.’’
Nick Caserio, the Patriots’ director of player personnel, said that with the pace still a bit slower than game speed, he was looking more for timing and execution.
The Patriots’ offense seemed to be off in the afternoon when Brady shouted, “Let’s go!’’ to no one in particular, and he slammed his helmet to the grass in frustration a couple of minutes later.
Brady had some miscues with his receivers, though Brees threw the lone interception when he was picked off by Terrence Wheatley.
Though there was trash-talking, the teams have great respect for one another: The Saints because coach Sean Payton has adopted several of Bill Belichick’s ideas and even his mannerisms, and the Patriots because of the humbling they received from the Saints last season.
“I think they’re a very good football team,’’ Brees said. “They are a playoff-caliber team and they’re one of those teams that each year you expect to go deep into the playoffs and be a championship contender. They have some very good players on defense and it’s fun to play against them.’’
“It’s a great experience,’’ echoed Patriots receiver Wes Welker. “Obviously they’re a great football team. We can come out here and get a lot of work with them and see some different people out here other than the ones you’re going against every single day.’’
Welker was able to take another step in his carefully controlled comeback, participating in 11-on-11 scrimmages against New Orleans, which exposed him to the potential of a hit. He was sandwiched by Stanley Arnoux and Anthony Waters on a play in the red zone, but he held on to a touchdown pass from Brady.
It will be interesting to see whether the heightened emotions from the afternoon session carry over to today. Tomorrow night, in the exhibition opener for both, the teams will be able to hit for real.