Bill Belichick loves the idea of conducting joint practices. The higher competition level and ability to work against various schemes in particular seem to interest the coach, and he's stated the work done during these sessions is as valuable as any during training camp.
The downside of such practices can be a factor as well, and the Patriots and Bears have seen a bit of that over the past two days. Tuesday's practice was impacted a bit once again by some extra-curricular activities, as was the case a day earlier.
The first incident on Tuesday was minor as Julian Edelman shot through the Bears secondary during 11-on-11 work before jump-cutting his way into a shoulder from Chicago cornerback Harold Jones-Quartey, knocking the receiver to the ground.
Edelman wasn't too happy and teammate Aaron Dobson quickly raced over to his aid, but Jones-Quartey appeared apologetic and both sides settled down immediately as the corner was sent to the sideline. Edelman was outstanding in his first full-time work since leaving practice early last week against the Saints.
The Bears defense continued to play with passion, however. Former Patriot Akiem Hicks was particularly fired up. He knocked tight end Martellus Bennett off his feet on one running play, and soon after used a nice swim move to beat Marcus Cannon before swatting down a Jimmy Garoppolo pass.
"We wanted the chance to be able to compete against somebody and play hard and get into some game-like situations," Hicks said after practice. "I was excited but I think as a defensive lineman you have to be able to bring the juice.
"There was no plan to come in and be extra animated but we wanted to come in and play better. I think both teams got the benefit of today's practice."
When the Patriots offense got the ball back a second time, things got a bit more testy. Bryan Stork and Chicago's John Timu began pushing and shoving following a running play and soon Stork was throwing punches and a head butt at the linebacker.
As Belichick did a day earlier when he sent Malcolm Butler to the locker room following a fight with Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery, the coach sent Stork packing immediately. Timu never responded to Stork's actions, backpedaling with his hands in the air, but clearly Stork was bothered by the pushing earlier in the sequence.
Before practice, Belichick was asked about the battles on Monday and whether or not anything needed to be further addressed among his team.
"No, we've moved on. I thought we handled it pretty quickly and we moved on yesterday. We've moved on today," Belichick said.
Incidentally, Butler was back on the field after his early shower on Monday. He once again was locked up with Jeffery at times, as well as Kevin White, the Bears impressive young wideout who missed his rookie season with an injury. The Bears wideouts had the better of things in those matchups, beating Butler on a number of occasions both in 1-on-1 drills and team periods.
View a collection of the best images from Patriots Training Camp practice in Foxborough on Tuesday, August 16, 2016.
It's been a slow start to his first training camp in New England for Nate Washington, but lately the veteran has shown signs of life. The 32-year-old wideout left the first practice of camp after vomiting on the field and missed the next week before returning slowly. He was back in uniform for a couple of days but only in the last few workouts has he done much team work with the rest of the offense.
On Monday he showed his deep speed on a couple of occasions, making some catches for would-be big plays against the Bears defense. He was active again on Tuesday and it appears as if Tom Brady is developing some rhythm with the free agent newcomer.
"I think that's the key, is having him out there so we'll see," Belichick said of Washington. "He hasn't been out there a lot. That's important. I think every player on the field has flashed good plays. That's why they're in the National Football League because of their talent and so forth. It's dependability, it's consistency, being able to improve and do it on a consistent basis; that's what training camp is for. That's why we go out there day after day and see what players can produce that, and which players that consistency or that dependability is less evident. We'll see how it goes."
Some of the consistency that Belichick referenced was on display on one play when Brady appeared to be looking in Washington's direction in the red zone, only to have the receiver run the wrong route. Washington lined up outside to Brady's right, but instead of running a corner route where Brady seemed to be looking, the receiver broke inside into another receiver's route and created a traffic jam.
Washington immediately motioned to Brady that he was at fault and the two talked briefly before the next play.
Communication issues aside, Washington looks to have maintained his top-end speed and could still be in the mix for a depth receiver spot.
Buy: Julian Edelman – For the first time since leaving joint practice with the Saints last week, Edelman took full part in the workout and looked solid. He ran a variety of crossing routes and managed to create separation on virtually all of them. He was productive in his first full team work against whichever Bears defenders tried to cover him,
Sell: Malcolm Butler –Last week Butler admittedBrandin Cooks got the better of him during work with the Saints. On Tuesday it was Alshon Jeffery and Kevin Whitewho got the upper hand. While Butler and Jeffery made it through practice without any further problems, the wideout continued to get open deep against the Patriots top corner.
Play of the Day –It's not often when a special teams play earns POD distinction but today's work by Matthew Slater is deserving. The veteran special teams captain served as the gunner on the punt team and battled Jacquizz Rodgers and Darrin Petersonall the way down the field. Despite the double team Slater arrived just as returner Kieren Duncan received the ball and knocked him over in the process. It wasn't a big hit and the two hugged after the play, but it was an impressive feat by Slater.
After leaving Monday's practice early with an apparent leg injury, Rob Gronkowski was not on the field for practice. Reports indicated that Gronkowski's injury is not serious, but his absence left a void on a tight end depth chart that is suddenly thin. Clay Harbor didn't finish Tuesday practice after awkwardly trying to catch a pass in traffic during an 11-on-11 drill, and rookie Bryce Williams has missed the last several days with an undisclosed injury. That left just Martellus Bennett, Bear Pascoe, AJ Derby and Steven Scheu as the tight ends, plus James Develin, who frequently spends time with that group. … Bennett was a popular interview request by Chicago media but the tight end chose not to speak after two practices with his former team. … Nate Ebner was on the field with the team for the first time since returning from Rio for the Olympics. He was not in pads and did some conditioning work in his No. 43 jersey and shorts. … The teams will be back at it on Wednesday with a walk-through heavy on situational work scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. The Patriots and Bears will then kick it off for real – sort of – Thursday night at 8 p.m. for their preseason game inside Gillette Stadium.