The New England Patriots visit the Houston Texans for joint practices at the The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV on Tuesday, August 15, 2017.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. – The Patriots hit the practice fields at The Greenbrier resort Tuesday morning for joint workouts with the Texans, marking New England's second visit to the facility in three years.
Houston has taken over the resort that formerly hosted Saints preseason practice, with Texans logos and branding evident before you even arrive at the lavish facility that dates back more than 235 years.
The resort, which once served as an emergency bunker location for Congress, is nestled in the mountains, though the peaks were hidden in fog on this drizzly morning.
Bill Belichick spoke to reporters prior to the start of practice and was rather hopeful for the work ahead, this after the coach praised the benefits of his team's joint action a week earlier with the Jaguars in Foxborough.
"Looking forward to getting started with the Texans today. [We] had a good meeting with Bill [O'Brien] and the coaching staff last night. I think we looked at some goals we'd both like to achieve, so hopefully we'll be able to get those done here in the next couple of days," Belichick said. "It's always great to be back at The Greenbrier. This is a great facility and a nice spot.
"It's a good opportunity, so we'll try to take advantage of it."
O'Brien, New England's former offensive coordinator and current Houston boss, held his daily press conference just after the conclusion of practice and from his view the first day of joint work was a sure-fire success.
"Guys practiced like pros on both sides," O'Brien said. "I just really believe in the joint practices."
Beyond the unique environment and a pretty competitive two-plus hour workout, here are one man's blogservations from the sidelines at what's known as "America's Resort."
--Though nestled in the mountains and surrounded by scenic views, Belichick's press conference included horns in the back ground. The first came from tractor trailer trucks on the highway just above the practice field. Then a train came through on the tracks below the fields, announcing itself with a few horn blows.
--Patriots players arrived at the performance center from the main resort buildings in vans and partially dressed. They donned their pads after arriving at the field itself.
--The practice took place under mostly cloudy skies and drizzle. The rain picked up a bit in intensity at a couple different points in the workout.
--Former Patriots players and current Texans assistants Mike Vrabel and Wes Welker were on the field well before practice running full-field sprints together.
--Those players not seen on the practice fields for New England included Matthew Slater, Mike Gillislee, Brandon King, Keionta Davis, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Tony Garcia, Andrew Jelks, Nate Solder, Matt Lengel and Deatrich Wise Jr.
--Hightower remains on PUP, while Jelks remains on NFI.
--Rookie defensive back Damarius Travis practiced in a red non-contact jersey, as did rookie receiver Cody Hollister and all three quarterbacks.
--The rest of the New England roster wore their white practice jerseys while the Texans practiced in blue shirts.
--Freshly off PUP on Monday, Alan Branch seemed to take part fully in practice once again.
--Larry Izzo, Houston's special teams coordinator, shared a big hug with Tom Brady early on in practice during stretching. Izzo also chatted with Patriots assistant special teams coach Bubba Ventrone.
--During pre-practice action Patriots scout team players wore pinnies signifying Texans key offensive players such as C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jay Prosch, Jaelen Strong, DeAndre Hopkins, Ryan Griffin, Lamar Miller and Braxton Miller.
--Hopkins didn't practice for Houston, but was on the field watching intently and interacting with his quarterbacks in between plays. Hopkins is being rested this summer on what has been reported as a "pitch count."
--Both teams worked on positional fundamental drills early in practice. The Patriots defenders worked on some fundamental tackling. That included the linebackers focusing on low tackles, wrapping up around the "legs" of a big tackling dummy.
--On the Texans side the defensive coordinator Vrabel took a hands-on approach with his linebackers, including wearing pads so the players could extend their hands for a violent punch to engage their coach.
--With the Texans controlling the loud music playing throughout, it was the first time this summer the Patriots did their form running and dynamic stretching without Kenny Chesney's "Boys of Fall" playing.
--The Texans defensive line did a drill in which they engaged a one-man sled and after shedding the sled had to catch a thrown football with one hand. Some, including J.J. Watt, made it look easy and showed their underrated athletic skills.
--The skill players and linemen from both teams broke up into four segments of the field for 1-on-1 work early in practice. Trying to keep track of it all, the offensive skill players seemed to get the better of the battles on both fields. That included Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and James White opening with four-straight completions.
--Chris Hogan was particularly impressive in the drill, destroying rookie cornerback Treston Decoud (apparently Decoud not!) and then got deep on Jonathan Joseph. Later Hogan jumped back for a throw, going over the defender to make yet another body-control catch as he's done so often this summer.
--One guy who struggled for the Patriots offense in 1-on-1s was tight end Dwayne Allen. The tight end did not adjust to the ball well, could not create separation with various defenders and seems to be laboring around the field a bit these days.
--When the teams first broke into some team drills, New England's defensive front line included, from left to right, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Malcom Brown and Trey Flowers. Harvey Langi was at left outside linebacker with Kyle Van Noy on the right and David Harris in the middle.
--Stephon Gilmore was on the field early for the practice, but did not take part. He stood on the sideline and watched the entirety of the workout. This is certainly something to keep an eye on.
--Eric Rowe, on the other hand, took plenty of reps at cornerback, many opposite Malcolm Butler.
--The second reps in many of the team drills on the defensive front included, from left to right, Adam Butler, Branch, Woodrow Hamilton and Kony Ealy. The linebackers were Trevor Bates, Elandon Roberts and Jonathan Freeny.
--Many of the Patriots defensive back packages included a "Big Nickel" look with three safeties: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. On some plays, McCourty was on the line of scrimmage in the face of Texans receivers.
--During one particular rep of team action, Watt rushed off his left edge working against Marcus Cannon. The right tackle held his own to some degree, but Watt still got near enough to Brady to throw his hand in the air like he was claiming a sack. The pass rush and "sacks" are the toughest areas to judge in practice action where defenders can't touch the passers.
--LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming rotated frequently at left tackle protecting Brady. Waddle seemed to get the earlier reps in most drills, unfortunately he limped off late in practice and did not return. Waddle finished the day watching the conclusion of practice barefoot on the sideline, while holding his cleats.
--Depth at tackle is something to keep an eye on. Solder has already missed significant reps with an unknown injury. So, too, has the rookie Garcia. Now Waddle could be dealing with something. Practice ended Tuesday with undrafted Iowa rookie Cole Croston taking reps at left tackle with the second unit.
--Malcolm Mitchell once again made some plays down the field after missing the early weeks of camp. The second-year receiver had a nice deep connection from Jimmy Garoppolo to beat cornerback Robert Nelson Jr.
--A new drill for special teams work may have been the most heated segments of the practice. The drill entailed one coverage player and one blocker in a situation similar to punt/punt return work. On the whistle they engaged at the line with the coverage guy trying to get down the field to a large dummy returner that was 25 yards away. The Patriots worked as the blockers in the first session of the drill. Brandon Bolden got toasted by rookie Texans linebacker Avery Williams. Bolden wasn't the only guy to struggle, though, as Geneo Grissom and Jordan Richards saw guys blow right by them. On the positive side, Derek Rivers did a nice job engaging and redirecting the coverage player in his reps.
--Reminiscent of the preseason opener, Garoppolo threw for Austin Carr crossing the back line of the end zone in coverage. This time, though, the rookie wasn't able to go up and come away with the high throw.
--When the two sides reversed roles in the special teams drill, the Patriots got off to a terrible start again, this time as the coverage players. Nate Ebner was knocked to the ground and man-handled by Williams, who wouldn't let the proven, veteran special teamer even get back to his feet. Richards also got owned by Brennan Scarlett, another linebacker. Freeny and Dayon Pratt, who was impressive in both sides of the drill, had a battle all the way down the field that ended with the Patriots linebacker throwing a little elbow toward his Houston counterpart. Rivers also impressed in the coverage aspect of his drill. Langy had a couple nice reps as the coverage man, as did James Develin. The same can't be said for rookie running back LeShun Daniels Jr. who got destroyed right at the line, essentially getting pancaked.
--Keep an eye on Williams as a core special teamer for the Texans as a rookie. And down the road as a guy Belichick might like based on the way he handled the special teams drills. These sessions are about improving your team, which can include scouting for future personnel moves!
--When not in the "Big Nickel" the top cornerback trio included Butler, Rowe and Jonathan Jones.
--As O'Brien noted afterwards there was plenty of work on the running game for both teams in 11-on-11 action. The coach predicted that Wednesday's work might be a bit more weighted to the passing game.
--Rivers, who probably had his best practice to date, had a nice edge pressure around right tackle which forced rookie Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to step up into a sack for Valentine.
--Fleming had one particularly poor rep at left tackle in which he was tossed to the ground by Whitney Mercilus. The veteran tackle/extra tight end hasn't had a great summer in his battle to retain a backup role for New England.
--At one point Malcolm Butler tackled running back D'Onta Foreman, action that had both head coaches reminding players to refrain from tackling to the ground.
--A few plays later the Texans got revenge when Tom Savage beat Butler with a throw to Strong down the right sideline.
--The teams alternated drives in a two-minute situation. Watson led his team to a field goal. Brady then did the same, getting in position on a deep ball to Hogan down the middle, beating Joseph and Kurtis Drummond.
--Stephen Gostkowski came on to nail the 41-yard run-on field goal attempt after the two-minute drive. The kicker had probably his best practice of the year, hitting the ball well on every attempt after drives and to close out the session with FG/PAT. It appeared Gostkowski nailed all his attempts, although it can be difficult to tell from the sideline. After missing a couple 50-plus attempts in practice last week and then one in the preseason opener, none of those kicks looking good off his foot, Gostkowski nailed a 53-yard run-on field goal.
--During the two-minute work for the Texans offense, Welker served as the ball boy to retrieve and set the ball for the ensuing snap. Funny to see him go from a 100-catch receiver not long ago to a role as an offensive/special teams assistant trying to jumpstart a coaching career.
--Daniels left practice early with the medical staff. He finished the day sitting on the far end of the field and being looked at by head Patriots trainer Jim Whalen and others.
--NBA legend Jerry West was in attendance for the practice. West was also a visitor last time the Patriots practiced at The Greenbrier with the Saints.
--Giants Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jeff Hostetler was also at the practice. Belichick introduced he and Brady to each other.
--Brady had a pretty heated, vocal back-and-forth with Vrabel during portions of the 11-on-11 action. It was seemingly somewhat good-natured, but showed the intense competitive nature of the two former teammates and now foes. Let's just say the language was…colorful.
--James O'Shaughnessy and Sam Cotton did extra running together long after practice had ended.
--Those Patriots meeting with the media after practice included Edelman, Gronkowski, O'Shaughnessy, Joe Thuney, Dion Lewis, McCourty and others.
--Brady and Gronkowski came back to the field very late to sign autographs for a contingent of Patriots fans. For those loyal followers, the patience and dedication paid off. Patriots fans were very well represented in the crowd at The Greenbrier.
--The teams are scheduled to return to the practice field for another session from 10:00-12:30 p.m. on Wednesday morning.