Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints arrived in New England Monday night and hit the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for some joint work with the Patriots Tuesday morning.
Drew Brees and Co. have become frequent summer foes for the Patriots, as Bill Belichick has become quite comfortable sharing a practice field with the NFC South squad to maximize practice time together.
"We're obviously looking forward to today, working with Sean and the Saints," Belichick said to open his morning pre-practice press conference. "It's a really good organization, good program. They do a really good job in a lot of areas, so this will be great competition for us. This is the fourth time with the Saints so we feel confident about the relationship that we have with them and expect it to be a very productive day for us. Like I said, the big thing for us is just trying to get better, trying to work at what we need to work against and work on against a quality organization, a quality team, a lot of good players, a very experienced coaching staff. I just think they do a real good job.
"We have a great relationship with the Saints and with Sean. Like I said, it's our fourth time doing it. We've really never had any problems."
The arrival of New Orleans for a morning of more competitive work on the sunny, hot practice fields was supposed to be the news of the day. Unfortunately, a couple injury situations created a bit of buzz around Foxborough as both wide receiver Julian Edelman and defensive end Rob Ninkovich were forced to leave the field early and missed the bulk of the session.
Edelman appeared to grab at his surgically-repaired left foot after he completely toasted Saints rookie safety Vonn Bell in a 1-on-1 battle in which the slot receiver made a fake to the inside (right) before breaking to the outside left sideline to leave the defender embarrassingly far behind in his dust. Edelman then spent time sitting on the back of a golf cart being attended to by trainer Jim Whelan at the farthest end of the field before the receiver walked off and returned to the locker room.
After practice NFL Network deemed the issue a "scare" and reported that Edelman may not miss any time because of it.
A little while after Edelman left the field, Ninkovich also departed. According to ESPNBoston.com the defensive end suffered a triceps injury and was undergoing tests on the arm. Ninkovich has been remarkably durable, having not missed a game in the last five seasons in New England.
Beyond the increase in number of players and competition level, as well as the injury concerns surrounding a couple key players, here are one man's blogservations from the packed-house media tent overlooking an extremely busy joint practice field:
View a collection of the best images from the Patriots joint practice with the New Orleans Saints in Foxborough on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.
--The players on PUP remained the same, as Danny Amendola (knee/ankle), Deion Lewis (knee), Tre' Jackson (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer are not yet eligible to practice. Amendola was on the field in sweats and followed the receivers/offense throughout the day but didn't seem to do anything overly physical at any point. The receiver did play catch with Tom Brady for a little while, standing in a stationary position to warm up the quarterback.
--Those players not taking part in the practice included Bryce Williams, Jonathan Cooper and Nate Solder. The left tackle is a new addition to the absentee list, though he did miss the entire spring to an injury.
--Wide receiver Keshawn Martin and running back Donald Brown were on the field with helmet and pads but did not appear to take part in any significant portions of practice.
--Chris Hogan, Logan Ryan and Jonathan Freeny remain in red, non-contact jerseys although they all seemed to take part fully in the practice with the Saints.
--Belichick and the rest of the Patriots coaches wore Ebner No. 12 U.S. Olympic rugby shirts for the practice. New England safety/special teamer Nate Ebner and the rest of the rugby sevens team was beginning its pursuit of a medal with a pair of contests in Rio on Tuesday.
--A group of NFL officials was on the field to begin the practice. The crew is in town to go over rules changes and points-of-emphasis for the new season The crew held a meeting with the media on hand, and will do the same with the two teams this week to clarify everything with the players and coaches.
--Former Patriots linebacker Teddy Bruschi was on hand, watching the practice action from between the two fields. Interestingly Bruschi and Patriots rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett got together for a hug and short chat.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft was also on the field later in the session to watch the practice action.
--With the two practice fields being put to use with nearly 200 players in action, additional video lifts were on the sidelines and behind the end zones. The older-style lifts were in addition to the remote control camera setups the Patriots have been using for the first time this summer.
--Former Rams stars Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, now with the Saints, caught up to chat before the practice got going.
--The first song of the day on the loud speakers for the practice was Kenny Chesney's "Boys of Fall." Chesney is a noted Saints fan who spent time with the team in camp in past summers. Payton actually appears in the video for the song.
--A Coast Guard helicopter flew over the practice fields at a pretty low altitude early in the session.
--Though a lot of the day seemed to belong to the defenses from each team, the receivers had some early time to shine in 1-on-1 work with the defensive backs. Aaron Dobson beat Saints corner Delvin Breaux. On the other field, Brandin Cooks rekindled his rivalry with Malcolm Butler that saw the Saints receiver dominate the cornerback in joint action last summer. Today, Cooks got things going again with a completion in 1-on-1s.
--Clay Harbor had his most active day since returning from PUP. He got things going by beating Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro for a completion in the 1-on-1 work.
--Brady and Brissett each had bad overthrows on consecutive plays in the drill, both times the receivers were open for would-be receptions.
--The officials threw flags on both teams at various times for false starts, offsides, defensive holding and pass interference infractions.
--Old friend and current Saints tight end Michael Hoomanawanui beat safety Jordan Richards in a 1-on-1 battle.
--Rob Gronkowski also beat Bell pretty badly in the 1-on-1 work, the second-round rookie getting a taste of both big receivers and quick ones in the NFL with the Patriots tight end and slot combos. New Orleans is apparently expecting the Ohio State product to be able to cover in the slot, something he struggled with at least in his early match up with Edelman.
--As the day wore on, Cooks continued to catch passes on Butler, although the Patriots cornerback was in decent position most of the time. It was a far more competitive battle than we saw last summer in West Virginia.
--The special teams focus of the day was punt/punt returns with the teams taking turns in both areas. The group in front of Ryan Allen for his early punt work included Shea McClellin, Geneo Grissom, Joe Cardona, Trey Flowers and Ramon Humber along with Cedric Thompson and Brandon Bolden at the wing spots. Matthew Slater and Brandon King worked as gunners with Richards at personal protector.
--The next group in front of Allen on the line included Elandon Roberts, (missed this guy), Cardona, Steven Scheu and Kevin Snyder with James Develin and Tyler Gaffney on the wings. Justin Coleman and Brock Vereen were the gunners with the group with Vinnie Sunseri as personal protector.
--While Butler has held down the left cornerback spot for nearly every top rep in camp, the right side has been more fluid. Ryan gets the majority of the reps, but both Cyrus Jones and Coleman have had their chances as well.
--Jones had maybe his best practice to date. Unlike virtually every other practice this summer, the rookie did not have a muffed punt or issue with ball security, something he talked about working on in his meeting with the media on Monday. He also was competitive in his reps on defense.
--After one 7-on-7 reception by Michael Thomas the rookie receiver seemed to be unhappy with the way Patrick Chung pushed him out of bounds.
--Malcom Brown took a long, slow penalty lap at one point, likely for jumping offsides.
--Rob Gronkowski had a drop in group action, continuing a trend that's popped up more often than is ideal this summer. The usually sure-handed tight end has been less than perfect at times this summer, failing to make the play on very catchable balls.
--During New England's punt return work Jonathan Jones, E.J. Biggers, Coleman and Harmon worked as vice guys.
--Coleman got into a little scuffle with Saints wide receiver Reggie Bell after one punt return rep.
--With Solder out of action, the line for 11-on-11 work to get things going was, from left to right, LaAdrian Waddle, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon. Brady took the first reps with the group, with Gaffney in the backfield.
--Brady tried to throw a screen on the second play of the 11-on-11 work, but instead hit Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the midsection for the big-man interception. Rankins would have had a potential big return in live game action.
--It's worth noting that the Saints were impressive in pass coverage even playing without some of their top cornerbacks, according to the New Orleans media.
--The line working in front of Jimmy Garoppolo in the next group was, from left to right, Chris Barker, Ted Karras, Bryan Stork, Shaq Mason and Cameron Fleming.
--Garoppolo badly underthrew a wide open Chris Harper down the left sideline, the throw turning a potential big play into a drop/incompletion.
--Alan Branch took plenty of reps next to Brown in the middle of the front, the formidable duo part of what could be, along with Terrance Knighton, an impressive run-stopping rotation.
--With Ninkovich out of the picture for much of the day, Chris Long and McClellin got a lot of reps opposite Jabaal Sheard. The front also utilized some "NASCAR" looks with all three on the field at once along with either Grissom or Flowers.
--One fan in the VIP area wore a Dont'a Hightower No. 30 Alabama jersey.
--Brady picked up the pace a bit later when he hit Gronkowski and then James White on consecutive throws.
--Grissom couldn't run with C.J. Spiller when the defensive lineman got matched up with the speedy running back on a wheel route in 11-on-11 work. Spiller was wide open and easily picked up the big gain down the right sideline.
--The three kickers – New England's Stephen Gostkowski and both Kai Forbath and Connor Barth for New Orleans – worked together kicking field goals on the opposite field while some of the team action was taking place.
--Bolden had a bad drop in the middle of the field at one point. Blount nearly matched that drop, but was able to haul a similar pass in after a bad initial bobble.
--Flowers had a penalty lap at one point.
--Harbor had a nice block on Saints defensive end Darryl Tapp, showing the versatility of his game just a bit.
--A couple plays later Tapp had a powerful bull rush on Fleming, driving the young tackle back into the pocket.
--At various points all the quarterbacks, including Brady and Drew Brees, had to pull the ball down or were whistled for coverage sacks when they simply couldn't find any open targets.
--Ryan had a fumble recovery after Saints running back Tim Hightower put the ball on the ground. The veteran took a penalty lap, holding a football in his right hand the entire run.
--Butler had a nice pass defense on a curious fade call to Cooks in the right corner of the end zone. A short while later Cooks beat Butler for a quick out in the same spot.
--Garoppolo threw an interception over the middle when his pass intended for Dobson was taken away by Roman Harper. Dobson put up a good fight to try to get the ball away from the defender, but the poor throw was too much to overcome.
--Jones had a nice pass defense on a back shoulder throw for Willie Snead IV, a common target of Brees' passes throughout the day. After the pass defense, Snead got the better of Jones on consecutive slants from Brees.
--Brady tried to find Nate Washington, who took part fully in the practice, for a deep ball down the right side. But the veteran was not able to come up with the catch on the well-thrown ball, with De'Vante Harris in coverage.
--New England used a dime look with six defensive backs late in practice action, a group that included Butler, Coleman, Chung, Harmon, Cyrus Jones and Devin McCourty.
--Gostkowski went eight of nine on PATs/field goals to close the practice, his only miss going wide left from 45 yards or so. Each team also ran fakes during the kicking segment, with Saints holder/punter Thomas Morstead throwing a touchdown to tackle Zach Strief.
--The end of practice included "opportunity" 1-on-1 work for players on both sides of the ball for the two teams. Brissett had his ups and downs in the action, but made a couple of real nice throws. Malcolm Mitchell also impressive in the drill.
--While the "opportunity" work was going on Brady was working alone in one area of the field with Martellus Bennett.
--Allen got some plus-50 punting in late in the session.
--During the punt work Garoppolo was working alone on the opposite field with Hogan.
--Gaffney took reps with Brady in 11-on-11 work at running back but also saw action with Brissett in "opportunity" sessions. One thing to note about the third-year running back is that he runs pretty upright and seems to take some big pops when he gets to the second level and meets up with linebackers. Worth watching in game action this summer.
--Grissom actually took some kickoffs from the JUGS machine after practice. The second-year defensive lineman is one of the blockers in front of the returners on kickoff return and has already caught a couple short kicks this summer. That's an area to watch if teams try high, short kickoffs as a result of the new touchback rule this season.
--Those players meeting with the media after practice included McCourty, Derby, Bolden, Hogan and others. Quite a few Saints, was well as Payton, also spoke with the media.
--The Patriots and Saints will return to the field Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. for another joint session open to the public. As always, be sure to check Patriots.com for any last-minute schedule changes.