FOXBORO — The dog days of August are going to get a little more interesting.
The Patriots and Saints will kick off three joint practices Tuesday morning in Foxboro, culminating with the preseason opener for both teams at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. This year will mark the first time New England has engaged in a series of combined practices with another team since they worked out with the Giants in the summer of 2001.
“It was just a whole different way to approach practice,” said left tackle Matt Light, one of the few players remaining from those 2001 sessions . “I think everybody was a lot more mentally ready to go. They were really working on what they had to do individually. It’s a great competitive atmosphere.”
The two teams will have three joint practices — two on Tuesday (9 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.) and one Wednesday (9 a.m.) on the fields behind Gillette Stadium before playing on Thursday night. (more…)
FOXBORO — To Leigh Bodden‘s way of thinking, maybe that embarrassing 38-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints before a national TV audience was the best offseason motivation for he and his teammates in the Patriots secondary.
And while the Pats were blown out against the Ravens in the first round of the AFC playoffs, it’s that game last Nov. 30 that many observers feel caused Bill Belichick, personnel chief Nick Caserio and management to go out and draft Devin McCourty and continue an overhaul of their secondary.
In case you forgot, on his way to an eventual Super Bowl title, Drew Brees threw for 371 yards and hung up five touchdowns on the Patriots secondary in that Saints romp before a national audience on Monday Night Football in the Superdome.
“Definitely, definitely it’ll be a good test for us. Super Bowl champs, they’re passing attack was great last year and I’m pretty sure they’re fine-tuning it and we’re fine-tuning our defense.
And while the scene will be much different this Thursday night for the preseason opener at Gillette Stadium – a game in which Brees and Tom Brady will be lucky to play two series before being yanked, Bodden will surely have flashbacks to that harrowing night in the dome.
But if you think those numbers led Bodden to believe he and his secondary teammates were just not good enough to compete with the best offense in football last season, think again.
“I think we were [good] last year but we just didn’t show it that game,” Bodden said. “We didn’t come out the way we wanted to. This year we’re focused, and we’re ready for the challenge and we’re ready to practice hard against them and just compete, something we didn’t do a very good job of last year and we’re definitely focused on that this year.”
As for Bodden himself, it wouldn’t be a shock if he were held out of Thursday’s game as a precaution after getting medical clearance to play after tweaking a knee last week in camp.
“I have no indications but Thursday’s gameday and if you’re out there, you have to bang,” Bodden said. “That’s all you can do when you’re out there.”
Whether he plays Thursday or not, he will likely have the benefit of scrimmaging against the Saints in practice in controlled game situations.
“My first couple of years in Cleveland, we scrimmaged Buffalo,” Bodden recalled Monday. “It’s definitely intense. As a young guy, I was a free agent so I had to make a name for myself so I was doing anything and everything to show the coaches I could compete at the highest level.”
Perhaps the biggest advantage to these scrimmages in practice belong to the rookies and young players trying to make their best impression on coaches and other decision-makers evaluating talent. Instead of their debut against another team coming in a game, they get the chance to square off against another helmet in practice. For Bodden, there’s a much simpler reason he’s happy to see the Saints this week, two days before their first game.
“Because it’s not your teammates so that’s good, and it definitely gets guys prepared for the game, especially the young guys,” Bodden said. “You don’t have to throw them right in the fire.”
Tight end Rob Gronkowski goes up for a reception during practice. (AP)
FOXBORO — The Patriots just completed the 19th practice of training camp, a Monday afternoon/early evening session that was held under clear skies on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. A healthy collection of fans witnessed the session, which ran roughly 90 minutes and was conducted in full pads, the first full pad practice of the week and the last practice before the Saints come in for a series of joint workouts starting on Tuesday. Here are some notes:
•The Patriots announced a personnel move midway through practice, releasing wide receiver Buddy Farnham and defensive lineman Adrian Grady and signing offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton and defensive back DeAngelo Willingham.
•The following players were on the field in t-shirts and shorts: wide receiver Torry Holt, defensive lineman Ron Brace and defensive back Terrence Johnson. Not in attendance were the following: cornerback Leigh Bodden, defensive back Bret Lockett, linebacker/defensive end Derrick Burgess, linebacker Gary Guyton, offensive lineman Logan Mankins, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, defensive lineman Ty Warren and wide receiver Matthew Slater.
•Probably the most notable event of the day — and one of the most notable of camp — came when linebacker Thomas Williams and tight end Aaron Hernandez got a little physical in a drill. Williams got a good hit on Hernandez. The two appeared to go down awkwardly and Hernandez took exception. When the Florida product got up, he fired the ball angrily at Williams, and was quickly pulled away. No more fireworks the rest of the afternoon.
•Defensive linemen Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork and tight end Carson Butler all took penalty laps at some point throughout the session.
•With Guyton still sidelined with a knee problem, rookie Brandon Spikes appeared to take the majority of reps with what looked like the No. 1 defense at the inside linebacker spot opposite Jerod Mayo. Marques Murrell also got a lot of time at the outside linebacker position.
•On a goal-line passing drill where the wide receivers were matched up in one-on-one situations with defensive backs (and then zone coverage), wide receiver Randy Moss dominated, working smoothly against defensive backs Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler. (In the same drill, wide receiver Wes Welker made some nice catches going up against safety Brandon Meriweather.) This drill was probably where the influence of the officials (who are in camp for a few days) was most felt, as they tossed flags on infractions. However, one ref drew the ire of Brady — the quarterback hollered at him after he believed the ref missed a pass interference call.
•Defensive lineman Myron Pryor made one of the best hits of camp, stopping running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis at the goal line in 11-on-11 drills.
•In kick return action, a wide variety of players lined up as potential returners, including Brandon Tate, Sammy Morris, Taylor Price, Julian Edelman, Kevin Faulk and Devin McCourty. Tate continues to display impressive skills in the return game, showing great foresight in finding the holes and nice speed when it came to exploiting the weaknesses in the return game.
•Jonathan Kraft and Robert Kraft both watched a portion of practice from the sideline.
FOXBORO — This season, the NFL has decreed the umpire will move from behind the defensive line to behind the offense. Given how the Patriots’ passing game has used the umpire in recent years, it could have an effect on how the New England offense operates.
Since arriving in Foxboro prior to the 2007 season, wide receiver Wes Welker has made his living going over the middle, scooting through a five- to seven-yard range just past the defensive line where the umpire has previously stood. And Welker is one of the best in the business at using the umpire as a pick to try and create separation from a defender.
“The Patriots do it all the time with [Wes] Welker,” NFL umpire Paul King told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette earlier this year. “They like to use [the umpire] as a pick.”
Umpires have been in the line of fire recently, so the NFL has decided to move them from one side of the ball to the other. (AP)
However, this offseason the league decided to make the move after several umpires had been injured in recent years in collisions with players — there were more than 100 occasions last season when umpires were knocked down by players. That decision (as well as a variety of other points) were discussed by back judge Billy Smith and other officials who are part of a crew that’s in Foxboro for practices the next few days trying to educate players on the various rules changes.
Smith said players were fined last year because they thought players might have been targeting an official. He also said the movement would impact the flow of the game, probably slowing high-octane offenses down a bit.
“Let’s say an umpire is seven yards back on the defensive side, and you have a play for no gain, he walks up seven yards, spots the ball and backs out,” Smith said. “But now, he has to come in 15, spot it, and then back out 15.”
In addition, Smith said the move could result in more holding calls. He said he spoke with the umpire who worked Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game.
“He told me saw much more back there than he had ever seen before [in back of] the defensive line,” Smith said. “He had five holding calls last night. He said, ‘I’ve never had five holding calls in a game before.’ That’s another impact.”
Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript of Bill Belichick’s Q&A with the media from this morning at Gillette Stadium:
BB: I hope everybody had a good weekend. We’re back at it here. We’ve got a big week ahead of us, a lot of things we need to do and start pulling together as we get ready for our first game on Thursday. I think the rest certainly did everyone good both physically and mentally and today will be a big day for us in terms of getting back on track and building on what we put down as a foundation last week. Injury-wise, Ty [Warren] and Nick [Kaczur] have both missed a number of practices and are both being evaluated by our medical staff and we’ll see what comes of that. We’ll just have to wait until we get a little more information there. Otherwise, I‘d say everybody is pretty much in a day-to-day situation. We got some guys back at the end of last week and we’ll hopefully see more back this week as we get closer to full strength. That’s about where we are today.
Q: Logistically, how is it going to work Tuesday and Wednesday with the Saints here? Is everything going to be together?
BB: We’re going to start apart at the beginning of practice and warm up and go through whatever individual periods or drills or group periods each team wants to do and then we’ll come together and start working, probably about maybe one third of the way through practice and then we’ll work together the rest of the way.
Q: Have you been talking with Sean Payton the last few weeks to work everything out?
BB: Yes. (more…)
FOXBORO — The Patriots just wrapped up their Monday morning practice, a walkthrough on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. It was their 18th practice of training camp, and their first since Friday.
It was hard trying to find out who was in attendance and who wasn’t — walkthroughs are conducted in t-shirts and shorts, and almost everyone is wearing a baseball cap. But we didn’t see defensive end Ty Warren and linebacker Gary Guyton. In their place, Mike Wright and Brandon Spikes appeared to take most of the reps at their positions. And with no Logan Mankins at left guard, it went about as expected, with Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell getting most of the reps.
•Cornerback Leigh Bodden was on the field, and afterward, told the media that his injury was nothing major.
•The Patriots have a second practice scheduled for this afternoon from 3 until 4:30.
FOXBORO — If you’re thinking the Patriots are going announce their interest in Aaron Schobel publicly, think again.
While the veteran pass rusher would certainly fill a need with the team, coach Bill Belichick was very strategic with his answer on Monday morning in the first media availability since players were given the weekend off.
Schobel has reportedly been in discussions with the Houston Texans and has indicated an interest in signing there since being given his release last week by the Buffalo Bills.
“Nick [Caserio] and the personnel staff look at all the players that are out there,” Belichick said. “Any player that’s not on the roster, we’ve evaluated. He has some sort of status with us, whatever that category and there are a number of different categories but that’s what the personnel staff does, they look at all the players. The ones that are on other teams, we keep track of them and the ones that aren’t with any team, we keep track of them.
“I’m sure, depending on what his situation is, he would some value to different teams but again that’s all relative to a lot of other circumstances and that would vary from team to team. I can’t speak for other teams.”
Belichick also confirmed that safety Josh Barrett will have shoulder surgery after being claimed on waivers on Friday from the Denver Broncos.
Nick Kaczur and Ty Warren are being evaluated by the team medical officials, Belichick announced Monday. Specifically, Kaczur’s knee injury is of particular concern since the team was hoping that he would be able to begin preseason games playing at left guard, filling in for Logan Mankins, who is in a contract holdout.
“Injury-wise, Ty and Nick both have missed a number of practices and they both are being evaluated our medical staff and we’ll see what comes of that. We just have to wait to get a little bit more information there. Otherwise, I’d say everybody is in a day-to-day situation.”
“We’ll deal with his situation when we know more about it.” Belichick said of Kaczur.
The Super Bowl champ New Orleans Saints come marching into Foxboro today, beginning two days of practices against the Patriots prior to the preseason opener for both teams on Thursday night at Gillette. This marks the first time in nine years Belichick has brought in another team during camp to help with practice. The last time was in 2001 when he invited the New York Giants to camp.
“It’s just part of the whole structure to get your team ready for the the season,” Belichick said. “I haven’t really thought about 2001 too much. We do it against each other and this will be a chance to do it against somebody else, their schemes and players are different than ours, so it just creates some different match-ups and we’ll see it again Thursday night. It gives us a chance to create some situations that may or may not come up during a game.”
NFL officials are also making their annual visit this week to Gillette to inform players and coaches of changes, like moving the position of the umpire during games.