For the first time in nearly a decade, the Patriots shared their training camp fields with another team. Back then, it was the New York Giants, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance; this summer, the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints were the guests.
And in Bill Belichick's estimation, this latest experience was an unquestioned success.
"It's been a good couple days for us here," the head coach told reporters at the start of his daily media briefing. "I thought yesterday's practice was probably one of the most productive practices I've been a part of in my career – good work, certainly a good tempo.
"We saw a lot of things from the Saints that we haven't seen working against ourselves. They're obviously very good. They do a lot of things well, so there were a lot of things that we were able to evaluate and also adjust to. We can walk through them, but it's different when a good team does them and hurts you with them and you have to make those changes. That part of it was great."
Belichick said he was also pleased to see how his players responded to the rare practice conditions. The single workout on Wednesday gives the Patriots time to evaluate the film of all three session, correct any lingering mistakes, and formulate a game-plan for Thursday night's preseason opener against New Orleans. That process includes determining how to allocate minutes of playing time to the 80 players on the roster during the contest.
The best preparation, though, according to Belichick, happened over the past two days.
"There's no better preparation for a game than working against the team you're going to play," he continued. "We've seen a lot in the two practices yesterday. We'll see a lot more today. It's been a great learning experience for our football team, not just the players but our staff as well."
"We did the things that we wanted to do. it was a good review of all the kicking situations and we hit red area, third down, move-the-field type situations, fringe, high red area, really everything but goal line and short-yardage. We had some great two-minute situations come up yesterday. Again, against [a] team that runs a little bit different plays and defenses from what we've seen from ourselves out there the first week and a half of practice, so it was great. We need to see all of those things and we saw from them and hopefully we'll learn from them."
Wednesday Morning Notes
Weather: Mostly sunny, drier, comfortably warm, mid-80s
Who's Hot: Patriots punt return unit
In particular, New England vice guys got the better of the Saints gunners in this special teams period.
Who's Not: Tyrone McKenzieThe second-year inside linebacker hasn't made any obvious errors, but hasn't stood out in a positive way either, since his bone-crushing hit on Laurence Maroney on the second day of camp.
Play of the Day: Brady to Welker TD on 4th Down
During down-and-distance work, the Patriots ended their down-and-distance series against the Saints defense with a 4th-and-goal in the New Orleans red zone, with the simulated game on the line. Brady took the shotgun snap, looked quickly to his right before spinning and rolling to his left. When Brady saw Wes Welker get open in the back corner of the end zone behind two Saints defenders, he fired across his body to his All-Pro wide receiver, who came down with the ball and both fee in bounds. The overflow crowd erupted in cheers, and Brady jokingly went after and "taunted" former teammate Randall Gay, the nearest Saints defender in coverage on the play.
- Nine players did not suit up for Wednesday morning's workout. Six players donned shorts and t-shirts to work on their rehab with the team's medical staff: wide receiver Matthew Slater, cornerbacks Leigh Boddenand Terrence Johnson, linebacker Gary Guyton, wide receiver Torry Holt, and defensive linemen Ron Brace. Three others were not seen on the field at all, a usual group that included: defensive back Bret Lockett, o-lineman Nick Kaczur, and defensive lineman Ty Warren.
- Guard Logan Mankinscontinues to hold out, while linebacker Derrick Burgess remains on the Reserve/Did Not Report list.
- The Patriots re-signed running back Thomas Claytonand released offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton. Clayton was given the 35 jersey he'd worn for the first nine days of training camp.
- During stretching, a hip-hop/dance tune was playing over the sound system surrounding the practice fields. With a little encouragement from his Saints teammates, New Orleans cornerback Malcolm Jenkinsgot up and performed a very impressive dance routine for a good 30-seconds or so. The thousands of spectators in attendance applauded loudly when Jenkins finished.
- Though both teams were in full pads, the practice had the feel of a walkthrough. The tempo was a little quicker than a typical walkthrough, but the o- and d-lines did not engage one another with any force and there was no hitting in the open field during team periods.
- The only time we saw much physical activity was when tempers flared a bit in the punt team period. The gunner/vice battles were heated exchanges. Jonathan Wilhite, acting as a vice for the Patriots punt return unit, pancaked Saints wide receiver Mark Bradleyinto the New England sideline. Later, Terrence Wheatleythrew Saints rookie Montez Billingsdown to the ground violently in another high-speed collision, and New Orleans' Leigh Torrencetook a swing at Wheatley during another series as the two locked horns.
- The Patriots punt returners, by the way, featured a normal group consisting of Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, and Darnell Jenkins.
- Following the Team Offense/Defense period,*Belichick had a one-on-one heart-to-heart with rookie linebackerBrandon Spikes as the two walked back toward the Patriots sideline. They were flanked by linebackers coachMatt Patricia*, who picked up the conversation when Belichick broke off to head to the next group activity.
- After practice, former Patriots running back Sam "Bam" Cunningham, who will be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame Thursday evening, had a long conversation with current back Laurence Maroney. Cunningham did most of the talking, it seemed, while Maroney nodded and appeared to take Cunningham's advice to heart. Maroney first introduced himself to Cunningham last season, when the Patriots alum returned to Gillette Stadium for the team's 50th season celebration.