NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The Patriots conducted 13 practices before arriving in Nashville for a pair of joint practices with the Titans, and virtually all of them featured steamy conditions. They all paled in comparison to the oven that was the Saint Thomas Sports Park Wednesday morning.
Temperatures reached the 90s but that told only part of the story. The humidity was oppressive with a heat index nearing triple digits, and even severe thunderstorms a day earlier did little to change that.
The heat seemed to affect the Patriots a little more than their hosts as the tempo between drills slowed at times and a couple of players were forced to leave the field a bit early. Most notable among those was Dan Skipper, as the tackle was seen doubled over in distress a couple of times before finally leaving altogether with about 10 minutes to go in the session.
Maurice Harris, Phillip Dorsett and Elandon Roberts also didn’t finish practice but heat may not have been the reason for those early exits. Dorsett caught a pass and landed hard to the ground early on and appeared to be shaken up, favoring his left hand/thumb. He left with head trainer Jim Whalen before returning for some work on the exercise bike. Roberts appeared to suffer a foot injury while Harris didn’t seem to sustain any apparent injury.
“It feels good, man. Ain’t no sunshine like Tennessee sunshine, but it felt good,” Lewisburg, Tennessee, native Dont’a Hightower said. “It was a little warmer than we’re used to a little bit, but it’s good for us, something we haven’t gotten to see a lot of this year. It was good. I think guys wanted to come out and compete, both for us and the Titans as well.”
Aside from personnel issues, the heat definitely impacted New England during the steamy morning. The Titans generally awaited the Patriots after segments while the visitors took a knee to regroup before resuming the action.
When the action took place it was reasonably even with Tom Brady using his backs effectively in the passing game to make some plays. Rex Burkhead seemed to be the main beneficiary of those passes.
Defensively, New England was excellent against the run and not as strong in the secondary but still had some moments. J.C. Jackson picked off Ryan Tannehill for a pick-six and offered a fist bump to Bill Belichick after another pick, but later surrendered a bomb to Taywan Taylor for a would-be touchdown.
While the overall performance probably wasn’t as strong as Bill Belichick would have liked, the work in the extreme heat should help down the road when the Patriots have to travel to Miami for a Week 2 encounter in South Florida.
Aside from the heat, here are some observations from the first of two joint practices between the Patriots and Titans.
*There were some changes to the attendance list in Nashville as Jamie Collins and Stephen Anderson joined Matt LaCosse among those not present. Anderson left Monday’s practice in Foxborough early but was present for Tuesday’s walkthrough. Perhaps he’s dealing with a nagging injury. With LaCosse (ankle) also not available, tight end is an extremely thin position. Eric Saubert took part in the practice after arriving via trade earlier in the week, and another tight end wearing No. 41 was also present. Lance Kendrick just returned after missing several practices, and although he started the day wearing his red, non-contact jersey he switched to a blank blue one and took part fully in the proceedings.
*Julian Edelman (NFI, thumb), Yodny Cajuste (NFI, quad), Demaryius Thomas (PUP, Achilles), Cameron Meredith (PUP, knee) and N’Keal Harry (leg/ankle) were all present but did not participate. Harry was in uniform but didn’t even take part in the early warmups before eventually going inside for rehab work. He returned after practice and caught passes while standing still off the JUGGS machine.
*Patrick Chung took part fully in practice but continues to wear red.
*As was the case last week in Detroit, a group of officials was on hand to oversee the practice. Clay Martin’s crew tossed a few flags but not nearly as many as were seen in Detroit – both on the practice field and during the Week 1 win over the Lions.
*Former Patriots general manager Scott Pioli was on the field watching the work. Pioli spent time chatting with Ernie Adams and enjoyed some time with several of his former players.
*Before practice, Belichick had his rookie class serenade Mike Vrabel on the Titans coach’s 44th birthday. Vrabel seemed to enjoy it and got the group together to break them down for the start of practice.
*Vrabel was often situated behind the Patriots offense and spent plenty of time trash talking back and forth with Brady. Brady was pretty sharp throughout, but that didn't stop his old friend from letting him hear it.
*With the attrition taking place at receiver it seemed virtually the entire depth chart took reps with Brady during the morning. Despite the absences, Dontrelle Inman seems to be improving as of late and has been on the receiving end of more Brady passes in recent days than earlier in camp. He made a nigh grab cutting across the middle in 7-on-7s early on.
*Isaiah Wynn and Skipper both worked at left tackle with the first group. Wynn seemed to open most segments but didn’t always stay in the lineup for more than a play. He did some solid work, though, whether it was in 1-on-1s or in normal 11-on-11 periods. His physicality is tough to miss, and after practice he told reporters that he is 100 percent healthy and would be ready to play in Week 1 if that’s what he’s asked to do.
*One of the most impressive offensive plays came with Brian Hoyer at the controls. He looked outside to James White, who lined up wide and ran a go and grabbed Hoyer’s perfect throw in stride for a touchdown. Brady was excited about that on the sideline. (No word on how he responded to Jarrett Stidham’s work later on).
*Braxton Berrios, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski took reps returning punts.
*Defensively, Michael Bennett and Danny Shelton stood out during 1-on-1s against the Titans offensive line. Both dominated their reps with Bennett’s quickness apparent even from afar.
*Marcus Cannon may have been the Patriots best offensive lineman during their 1-on-1 work. Cannon has enjoyed a strong camp and has yet to miss any time – something that’s been a problem for him periodically in the past.
*Stidham and his offense did not fare well on Wednesday. He was off target a few times and then lost a potential rep when the shotgun snap eluded him and forced the coaches to blow the play dead.
*Damien Harris got some early work as the ball carrier but still wasn’t involved extensively. A report in The Athletic indicated he is dealing with a right wrist injury, which might explain his recent inactivity and DNP in last week’s opener against the Lions. Harris appeared to handle the ball with his left hand as often as possible on Wednesday.
*Former Patriot Cody Hollister got loose deep down the middle and split the Patriots safeties for a big play late in practice. It appeared that Duron Harmon and Obi Melifonwu may have been in position to prevent the completion under normal conditions, but Belichick did not seem pleased after the play.
*Dont’a Hightower, Ben Watson, Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Inman, Jackson and Matthew Slater were among those chatting with the media. Harmon and his former teammate and current Titans corner Logan Ryan sat down for an interview that will air at halftime of Saturday’s Week 2 preseason game.
*Deatrich Wise and Hollister had a big hug and spent some time together after practice. The two were teammates at Arkansas as well as in New England.
*The Patriots final training camp practice open to the public takes place Thursday here in Nashville with things schedule to begin at 9:15 a.m. CT.