RICHMOND, Va. - Bill Belichick has been at the forefront of many innovative schemes and team building exercises over the years and one of the more recent trends he's been tied to is joint practices. On Monday he brought his team down to Richmond to work with the Washington Redskins, which became the fifth team to hold joint practices with New England since 2010.
One difference with this particular opponent is the lack of a direct connection between the organizations. Atlanta (GM Thomas Dimitroff), New Orleans (head coach Sean Payton), Philadelphia (head coach Chip Kelly) and Tampa Bay (head coach Greg Schiano) all had direct ties to Belichick.
In the case of the Redskins, first-year head coach Jay Gruden had no such connection to Belichick, but the Patriots coach felt with the teams squaring off in the first preseason game on Thursday night that there would be enough benefit to working together.
"Once the preseason schedule came out and we saw that we opened in Washington, Jay – well [Redskins President/General Manager] Bruce [Allen] and then Jay and I all made contact," Belichick explained. "We talked about the opportunity of working against each other. We talked about it. We felt like we could make it work based on what our goals were and talking about our philosophy and how we work and so forth. As we got into more specifics, the actual drills and how they would be done and who would work against whom it seemed very workable.
"I know the members of our coaching staff have also worked closely with their guys. [Patriots defensive coordinator] Matt [Patricia] on our end and [Redskins offensive coordinator] Sean [McVay] or [Patriots offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and [Redskins defensive coordinator] Jim Haslett and so forth, just coordinate some things there. I feel like things are in place from the logistical standpoint. We just need to go out there and have a good practice."
From the Patriots perspective it would appear the team was able to accomplish that goal on Day 1. After both teams did some stretching and individual drills, the sides came together for some 1-on-1 work followed by 7-on-7 and then full team periods.
Offensively the passing game looked sharp from the get-go. Tom Brady was firing to a variety of open receivers, many of whom seemed to have little trouble shaking free from Washington's top cover men such as DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson. Julian Edelman was far and away the Patriots most effective receiver. After dropping an easy short pass from Brady on the first play, he toyed with the Redskins secondary thereafter and made several catches on shallow crosses and deeper out routes.
Hall and Kenbrell Thompkins locked horns for some physical battles and each player had his share of success. Hall gave Thompkins a good pop after a short catch and the receiver reacted as if he didn't take too kindly to the contact. Hall immediately patted Thompkins and the two seemed to be fine, avoiding any potential for an ugly incident such as the one that took place in Philadelphia last season between Cary Williams and Aaron Dobson.
The defense was just as effective operating on the adjacent field. After allowing a few completions during 7-on-7s, including a deep ball or two, the unit fared much better in 11-on-11 work. The front seven applied consistent pressure and the coverage made life difficult on Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Overall the effort had to be pleasing to the entire group.
"We had no problems. We worked well together. It was a physical practice," Vince Wilfork said after practice.
New and improved
Cross another milestone off the list for Wilfork. Coming off a ruptured Achilles that limited him to four games a year ago, the veteran defensive co-captain continues to show no ill effects from the injury.
He raised some eyebrows when he was ready to join his teammates throughout spring camps, then opened training camp without limitations. On Monday he took part fully in the work against the Redskins, and he said he's to the point where he's no longer concerned about the injury.
"I feel fine. To me, that's in the past. I don't even think about it," Wilfork said. "From the first day I stepped on the field with full pads back at Gillette, I knew I could move around and play on it. I really didn't think much of it after that. It's an afterthought to me right now."
Wilfork also added an interesting nugget, saying that he shed some pounds off his massive 325-pound frame with the idea of helping his rehab in mind. He appeared to move without limitation on Monday and showed his trademark power in individual drills.
"My training camp began a long time ago -- in March," Wilfork said. "I've been working for a long, long time and there's a reason I feel good and a reason I have the confidence to play. It won't stop. Every year I always try to work on something and one of the things [this year] was, with an Achilles the more weight you can try to take off the better your body feels. I tried that and it went well. That might be something in the long run where if I feel that helped me, it might be something I have to stick with.
"For the most part, everything is good right now. It's just maintaining. That's the main goal, to be able to continue to work at things, where I know I can get better, whether it's on the field or off the field with my body. I think that's what is going to keep me around as long as I want to be around and not getting pushed out the door. As long as I want to be around, I'll be around."
Belichick was asked if he had any memories of the Redskins organization dating back to his days as the Giants defensive coordinator, when the teams met routinely in big games. As usual, the coach went back even further than that when discussing his Washington ties.
"This is kind of the, I'd say, almost second home my first year in the league," he began "When Coach [Ted] Marchibroda came over from the Redskins, he brought the whole Redskins program with him. I remember just everything we did, one of my jobs was to white out Washington Redskins and type in Baltimore Colts on it and then Xerox it off. It was literally the same – the same offense and Maxie Baughan was the same defensive coordinator and it was the same defense. I remember there was a couple pages somehow that snuck into the playbook that Redskins didn't get whited out and I heard about it on that.
"This organization has a lot of tradition, great history and of course when I was with the Giants we had a great rivalry at the Redskins and Coach [Joe] Gibbs and playing them twice a year, sometimes three times. Those were some great battles that I'll never forget. They were just a huge part of my career. That was Redskins, 49ers – those were kind of the biggest games on the schedule each year."
Buy: Dont'a Hightower – During the offseason the big linebacker talked about his desire to rush the passer more frequently and on Monday he got that opportunity. He was in on a pair of sacks of Griffin, teaming with fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo to provide some heat. Hightower looked quick and explosive and helping to break down the pocket and making Griffin uncomfortable.
Sell: Brandon Bolden – The veteran running back has not enjoyed a strong camp to this point and on Monday he was not on the field with the rest of his teammates. It's unknown if he's suffering an injury or how long he'll be out, but with young running backs James White, Jonas Gray and Stephen Houston showing flashes of ability, Bolden's job security may not be at an all-time high.
Play of the Day – It came late in the practice and during a segment where both teams were using players well down on the depth chart but Justin Jones' catch down the seam was a beauty. Jones was tightly covered and Jimmy Garoppolo's pass was in an area where only his tight end could catch it, which is exactly what the twisting Jones did before absorbing a big hit and holding on.
In addition to Bolden, Rob Gronkowski was not on the field with the rest of his teammates. His absence was not overly surprising considering he's yet to take part in any contact drills this summer and is not expected to play in the preseason opener. Considering that most of the work comes against the Redskins, Gronkowski would have been relegated to the sidelines for most of the practice.
There was one other minor change to the recent injury report as rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner was in uniform and worked out with Matthew Slater and Alfonzo Dennard in a small area behind the practice fields. Skinner appears to have been removed from the non-football injury list.
Dominique Easley (NFI/ACL), Chris Martin (NFI), Dobson (PUP/foot) and Jeremy Gallon (PUP) have yet to be activated while Jemea Thomas, Tyler Gaffney (knee), Cameron Gordon, Michael Hoomanawanui (leg) and Bryan Stork all missed practice.
The Patriots and Redskins will be back at it tomorrow with practice set to begin at 1:35 p.m., which should make for some steamy conditions in the humidity. … Interesting to see Brady wearing his brace on his left knee for the first time this summer. Last year you may recall him giving everyone a scare when Tampa'sAdrian Clayborn fell into his knee during joint practices in Foxborough with the Bucs. He said at the time that he intended to wear the brace anytime there was another team on the field. … Wide receiver Cole Stanford was released over the weekend and linebacker James Morris was re-signed to take his spot on the roster. … According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Patriots put in a waiver claim on right tackleMichael Bowie, who was waived-injured by Seattle. The Patriots did not acquire Bowie, however, as Cleveland claimed him as well. Dallas and New Orleans also put in a claim on Bowie, who is expected to miss 4-6 months with a shoulder injury.