NASHVILLE, Tennessee - When coaches get together and plan joint practices, it’s a good bet that they envision the kind of work put in over the last two days by the Patriots and Titans. Given Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel’s relationship, it’s probably not surprising that teams were able to work so well together at Saint Thomas Sport Park here in Nashville.
Despite soaring temperatures and humidity, the team were able to put forth quality efforts with intensity and tempo reaching more than respectable levels. Thursday’s practice featured even better results than Wednesday’s, especially for the Patriots on both sides of the ball.
Tom Brady has been forced to work with a number of new receivers this summer, and that has been exacerbated by the absence of his top target Julian Edelman, who remains on NFI with a thumb injury. But Edelman isn’t the only missing piece as Maurice Harris (apparent foot/ankle), N’Keal Harry (leg/foot) and Phillip Dorsett (apparent left hand/thumb) were out of the lineup as well.
That has forced Brady to work with just about every receiver on the roster, and in turn it has offered a lot of opportunities to those who have been in uniform. On Thursday that meant plenty of balls thrown to the likes of Braxton Berrios, Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers. All made plays at various times against a pretty solid Titans secondary.
“I think those guys are working hard. I think training camp’s an interesting time with a lot of bodies and there’s a lot of guys in and out,” Brady said after practice. “Some years, you might have three guys set, or four guys set, and I think this year we haven't really had that. It's good work for the quarterback, just to make a read and then make a throw, and whether we come up with it or not, at least we're going to the right place and making a good, decisive play. So, there’s still a lot to be gained with guys moving in and out, and that's just the way it's been here.
“I think for the guys that are out there, they’re trying to get the work they need to do, and I think it was good, competitive work. You’re going against Malcolm [Butler], Logan [Ryan], Adoreé [Jackson] – those are three really good corners. They’ve got two very good safeties, a good group of linebackers, a good scheme.
“Whoever’s in there, try to get to work. It was a good couple days.”
Meyers and Berrios have received the bulk of the attention for his work with Brady in camp, but Thursday saw additional opportunities for Olszewski. The former defensive back at Division II Bemidji State is always moving and he found himself on the receiving end of several shallow crosses from Brady, including a handful during red zone work and 7-on-7 drills.
Berrios also turned in a solid day, rebounding from a Brady tongue-lashing after apparently running the wrong route. He bounced back with a pair of solid plays, drawing a holding call and then a short catch that turned into a big play when he raced about 80 yards inside the 5. Brady noticed the immediate response from Berrios.
“I think that’s the learning curve for a lot of players and being on the same page,” he said. “Really, I think so much is him expecting the ball to be a certain place and me expecting him to be a certain place. I think the chemistry between a quarterback and receiver is so important because it’s all anticipation. If you’re waiting for things to happen in the NFL, you’re too late. You’ve got to just anticipate and expect them to be a certain way, and that’s the way they turn out.
“I have, obviously, a lot of experience, so I know where guys should be, so I’m trying to tell them, ‘If you want the ball, this is where you’ve got to be,’ which is hopefully good learning for those guys, and it’s good teaching for me. I always say the quarterback can’t do anything without the receivers, and the receiver can’t do anything without the quarterback, which makes it a really great relationship. That’s why we work hard at it, that’s why you spend the time with those guys and you put all of the work in.”
Berrios took it all in stride and focused on preparing for the opportunities he’s getting as well as the competition that takes place on the field every day.
“It’s a competitive sport and that’s how we like it,” Berrios said. “There are a lot of moving pieces out there and you have to learn on the fly and that’s what these practices are great for. Joint practices are more game-like situations and reacting on the fly to what you see. It’s a great way to learn.”
With 15 practices and four joint sessions now in the books, the media portion of training camp is over. But before we leave here are some observations from Day 2 against the Tennessee Titans.
*In addition to Maurice Harris, who left Wednesday’s practice early, the Patriots were also without tight ends Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse. Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith and Yodny Cajuste remain on NFI/PUP but Edelman and Thomas in particular look close to returning based on their rehab work.
*Jamie Collins was back in the lineup on Thursday and did not seem limited in any way after missing Wednesday’s practice. Lance Kendricks wore LaCosse’s No. 83 while Patrick Chung stuck to his red non-contact jersey.
*Harry and Dorsett suited up and took part in stretching before practice but then went inside the Titans bubble for some rehab work. Both later returned but not in pads as Harry caught some passes from Jarrett Stidham on the Patriots sideline late in practice.
*On Wednesday I noted that there was an unknown tight end wearing No. 41 but it appears as if that was Eric Saubert, who I incorrectly thought was wearing 48. Saubert continues working with the tight ends as he tries to get up to speed with the offense after arriving from Atlanta earlier in the week.
*Dontrelle Inman, another receiver who’s been getting more chance of late given the attrition at the position, did a great job of losing Malcolm Butler for a nice completion in the red zone during an early 1-on-1 rep.
*Scott Pioli spent a long time chatting with Brady prior to practice. Pioli has been on hand for both days of work in Nashville.
*Brady was a pretty popular guy after practice as well as former teammates Matt Cassel and Eric Decker spent some time with him. Brady and Cassel were teammates in New England for four years from 2005-08.
*The 11-on-11 offense saw Dan Skipper and Isaiah Wynn alternate at left tackle. Skipper took the first two reps while Wynn got the next two. After that Cole Croston also saw some action as Skipper once again dealt with some heat-related issues. Unlike Wednesday, Skipper was able to continue and eventually made it back into the lineup and finished practice.
*Brady and Meyers connected on a nice play-action pass that saw the rookie grab a crossing route and head upfield for what would have been a solid pick up.
*Titans coach Mike Vrabel again spent all of his time standing behind the Patriots offense and Brady in particular. While the trash talk continued in earnest, Vrabel explained how getting an up close look at Brady and the offense and watching how they operate was the real goal. That didn’t stop Vrabel from getting his digs in, though. Brady tried to hit Ben Watson in the end zone but the tight end was unable to make a one-handed grab off the high throw. Vrabel responded by telling Brady that he “never dropped one of those.”
*Speaking of Brady and Vrabel, the quarterback greeted his former teammate with a “trophy” with the final score of last season’s Titans victory inscribed. No doubt Brady reminded Vrabel how the 2018 season ended along the way.
*The Patriots red zone offense was outstanding as Brady found his receivers consistently beating the Titans from sideline to sideline with a variety of crosses. It seemed every time a receiver raced across the formation in motion the Titans has a tough time covering him as Brady picked the secondary apart.
*Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Brown, a rookie wideout out of Ole Miss, got a bit heated about midway through practice during some 11-on-11 work. The two were lined up to the offensive right side but Marcus Mariota’s throw went the other way. That didn’t stop the two from getting into as Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones also came over to get involved.
*The Patriots defense responded to the Gilmore-Brown incident with some strong play. Mariota was forced to hold the ball at least three times over the next handful of snaps and came away empty. Gilmore also prevented Darius Jennings from getting free on a fade to the left corner for another incompletion. Overall another excellent day for the secondary.
*In addition to Brady and Berrios, James White, Matthew Slater and Ben Waston were among those spending time with the media.
*The Patriots and Titans will hold a walkthrough on Friday but that session will be closed to both the public and the media. The teams will then hit the field Saturday night for preseason Game 2 with kickoff set for 7 p.m. ET.