ALLEN PARK, Mich. – After more than a week and eight practices in training camp, the Patriots were looking forward to the opportunity to get some work in against somebody else. They got that chance on Monday with the first of three days of joint practices against the Detroit Lions.
And even though the intensity and tempo of the two-plus hour workout wasn’t as high as what we’ve seen during past sessions against another team, it was still and opportunity to up the level of competition and to further evaluate the Patriots roster.
“They’re great. I think you really identified one of the great values of this is the number of quality reps that everybody can get between the game and practice,” Bill Belichick said when asked how useful the reps are going against an opponent. “I think throughout our entire roster, we feel very good about the opportunity. We’ll have to look at everybody against quality competition – getting experience to players that don’t have experience, guys that do have experience, to do it in a controlled setting where we can get third down, red area, two-minute and so forth. We’ve done it against ourselves, but now we’re seeing it against other players and against another team, a different scheme, and it’s a little more competitive situation.”
Belichick talked about the situational work the practices afford the teams and that was on full display, especially toward the end of things. Both offenses worked two-minute drills with clock and down-and-distance varying from play to play. Both attempted field goals at the end of the drives, both with the clock stopped and also having to rush the unit onto the field in the waning seconds.
“I think those are all good. I think it gives us a great opportunity to start to begin the process of seeing an opponent, recognizing the adjustments we need to make, making those adjustments quickly – both as a coaching staff and as players, and in each unit,” Belichick added. “This is a great opportunity, and especially with [Lions coach] Matt [Patricia] and his staff, and how well I feel like we can work with them. Certainly, it’s gone very smooth up to this point, and I expect it to continue – the reciprocal cooperation to make sure that everybody gets as much out of it as we can, again, individually, by unit, and as an entire team. I think the structure of it’s been great. They’ve been great with it.”
Tom Brady, fresh of his new contract extension, had some pockets of success moving the ball against the Lions defense. Earlier in practice he had a pair of big plays to Jakobi Meyers (nice diving catch on a deep out) and N’Keal Harry (deep down the right side), and then he used Braxton Berrios and Phillip Dorsett during the two-minute drill.
Brady echoed his coach’s thoughts on the value of the joint practices when he spoke to the media.
“I like it. It’s a different level of competition,” Brady said. “Obviously, between the OTAs and the mini-camp and training camp, there’s quite a bit of practice against our own guys. We really know our players, what we do schematically, the looks that we present and it's nice to get some real fresh competition and see where you match up against a team that really beat us up pretty good last year. It’s good competition for us. We need it and it’s just another step in the process with the preparation that we need to get ready for when the season starts.”
Rather than having drills going on simultaneously on separate fields, most of Monday’s work took place on one field with the teams alternating taking turns on offense. Both sides had some success moving the ball, but the defenses made their share of plays as well.
It was hard to say if either side had a significant edge, but as Brady and Belichick said there were a lot of opportunities for the teams to create some quality situations that don’t always come up during the preseason games.
With that said, here are some observations from the Patriots ninth practice of the summer and fifth in full pads.
*The attendance had a slightly different look in Allen Park as Rex Burkhead and Patrick Chung were not in uniform. Burkhead was on the field running before practice, along with Julian Edelman (NFI, thumb) and Demaryius Thomas (PUP, Achilles). Chung has been wearing red throughout camp and it’s possible the coaches wanted to scale his work back a bit going against a different team where the possibility of additional contact was greater.
*Nate Ebner and Ken Webster remain on PUP while Yodny Cajuste (quad) is still on NFI. Also, newly signed wide receiver Cameron Meredith is on PUP as he recovers from a knee injury.
*There were at least three throwback Michigan No. 10 jerseys on display in the stands but one stood out. One fan had a blue version but instead of ‘BRADY’ on the back his simply said ‘GOAT.’
*For the first time this summer the Patriots worked with officials on the field. Referee Shawn Smith’s crew was on hand to legislate things and the group tossed a fair share of flags. Most of the infractions appeared to come in the secondary and came against both teams.
*Some early punt work for Detroit led to some reps for Harry, Meyers, Berrios and Gunner Olszewski as returners. The group handled their chances without incident. Matthew Slater and D’Angelo Ross worked as vise guys during the early drill.
*When the position groups began drills against one another, the Patriots secondary had some solid moments. Stephon Gilmore and Kenny Golladay had some physical reps with neither side gaining much of an edge. Rookie Joejaun Williams did a great job of hanging with Travis Fulgham on a deep route to force an incompletion. Devin McCourty came up with a nice deflection to thwart a potential catch for Jerome Cunningham. It wasn’t good, however, as Duron Harmon was beaten badly by rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson for a big play.
*Jonathan Jones’ strong camp continued as the slot corner made a terrific diving deflection to knock down a pass intended for Chris Lacy during 7-on-7s.
*Meyers continues to work with presumed starters and does not look out of place. His diving catch came during 11-on-11 work after he beat rookie corner Amani Oruwariye on a deep out. Meyers reached out full extension and hauled in the pass as he went to the turf near the sideline. His hands have been impressive thus far.
*Dan Skipper continues to work at left tackle while Isaiah Wynn, who took some second-team reps last Friday, did not appear to do much against the Lions.
*The Patriots appear to have some depth on the edges on defense with several versatile players capable of contributing. John Simon served well in that role last year and he’s been involved again thus far this summer. A couple of others under the radar have flashed a bit in that role as well. Shilique Calhoun and Trent Harris show athleticism coming off the edge, and Calhoun was quite active against the Lions. He got to backup quarterback Tom Savage for a sack late in practice during two-minute work and definitely shows the ability to rush the passer. That’s a deep position for the team so it will be tough to find roster spots, but both Calhoun and Harris have ability.
*Marvin Jones caused some problems for the Patriots secondary, catching several passes across the middle for would-be first downs. A couple came on third-down situations, the last when Detroit was facing third-and-10 and trying to work into field goal range. Jones is a solid receiver but he was a problem for the Patriots on Monday.
*Members of the coaching staffs for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League were on hand.
*Deatrich Wise spent some time working on his pass rushing moves after practice. He worked on hand placement and footwork while going against a dummy, moving under an outstretched pad and moving forward. That’s something we’ve seen a lot of from Wise this summer.
*Ross and Keion Crossen both came up with interceptions late during 11-on-11 work working with the backups.
*Brady, James White, Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Harmon spent some time with the media after practice.
*Ben Watson, who is in his 16th NFL season, spent several minutes chatting with rookie tight end Isaac Nauta after practice. Both attended the University of Georgia.
*Belichick spent some time with Patricia and his family after practice. Patricia is dealing with a foot injury and moves around the practice fields in a cart, but that didn’t stop many of his former players from meeting with him. Devin and Jason McCourty (Jason actually never played for Patricia) said hello and Brady also had a hug for the former defensive coordinator. Brady also stopped to catch up with former Patriots safety Tavon Wilson and took some pictures with Wilson’s children.
*The teams will be back at it on Tuesday with practice scheduled for 9:15 a.m. at Allen Park. It wouldn't be surprising to see the intensity kicked up a notch on Day 2.