FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - Overcast skies and a steady drizzle greeted the New England Patriots upon their arrival at Atlanta Falcons headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia this morning. Which was a marked improvement over the downpours that soaked the team moments after landing at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last night.
The relatively cool weather was actually a welcome change for the Falcons players, who hosted the Patriots for the first of their joint practices leading up to their preseason game Thursday night.
"I am happy that they brought the rain down from the Boston area," Falcons QB Matt Ryan told reporters. "It has been brutal the last two weeks, very hot. It was a nice change of pace today with the weather. However, maybe this afternoon they will get a taste of a Georgia summer."
What the Patriots did get was a taste of another team's practice format. As guests of the Falcons, New England followed the schedule set by Atlanta. Both teams took the field in
shorts, shells and helmets on Tuesday morning, a change from last week, when the Patriots and Saints wore full pads for their joint sessions.
Atlanta wore their home red practice jerseys, while the Patriots donned road white jerseys. The focus of the morning workout was clearly on the passing game, which quarterback Tom Brady said set the up-tempo atmosphere.
"I thought it was a good tempo. It was a good fast tempo. I think it's fun for the players to get out and compete against other players. It definitely brings a certain level of intensity to practice," Number 12 said.
"This was a good practice. We got a lot of stuff done. It's a different tempo. There's a lot of things that these guys do that the Saints don't do that our defense hasn't done. This is a very athletic defense - athletic linebackers, quick defensive linemen. They present a whole different set of [challenges]. We played them last year, so there's some familiarity with them. They're good. They've got a good group of core players. Hopefully, we'll be able to protect on Thursday night. They have some guys who can get on the ball."
Practicing on foreign soil is nothing new for Bill Belichick's Patriots, who've done so as recently as last season, when they played the Tampa Bay Bucs in London, and in 2008 during a pair of week-long stays on the West Coast.
"It's not that unusual ... It's a little bit different but I think it's good," Belichick maintained. "The practice schedule is structured a little bit differently, but I think in general we're trying to get the same things done."
]()Smith also pointed out the benefits of working with another team and another peer like Belichick.
"The coaching fraternity is the greatest fraternity that there is. There's no doubt about that," he began. "We all have ideas on how we can help one another. Even though we're competitors on game day, everybody is looking to get an edge from somewhere. Coach Belichick studies the game more than anybody. If you can take one or two nuggets away from a conversation [with him], it's beneficial."
"It's nice to sit over there and watch other offenses," Brady agreed, "watching their offense go against our defense - the different plays they run, hear the quarterback communicate. It's fun for me. There's always something I can learn."
"We had a good morning worth of work against New England's defense," Ryan continued. "We saw some different things. We had some good work against the 3-4 scheme. It was a productive morning and a good change of pace."
For the players, as Brady indicated, the joint practice atmosphere is clearly more game-like, which is another advantage that Smith sees in bringing two different squads together.
"I think the concentration level is definitely heightened when you're working against another team. For a shells practice, I thought the tempo was very, very good. Everybody did a good job, we wanted everyone to stay on their feet … when you're not in fully-padded practices. We didn't want to take any of the running backs down to the ground. I thought the tempo was very good for what we wanted to accomplish."
According to Smith, the plan is to practice that same way in the afternoon.
Tuesday Morning Notes
- Thirteen players did not suit up for Tuesday morning's practice: wide receivers Darnell Jenkins and Matthew Slater, cornerback Leigh Bodden, defensive back Bret Lockett, cornerback Terrence Johnson, linebackers Dane Fletcher, Thomas Williams and Gary Guyton, o-linemen George Bussey and Nick Kaczur, defensive lineman Damione Lewis, and linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham.
]()At the very end of his Q&A with reporters, Brady was asked if there were any new developments to report regarding his contract situation. "No news," he replied with a slight smile. "Just keep practicing. I'll go back and do what I can control." The QB also was seen a few practices ago with tape on his throwing hand, so curious reporters questioned how he's feeling physically. "I feel great. I feel great, as great as you can feel. My arm feels good. My legs feel good," and with a knowing laugh, added, "Finger feels good. I've got no concerns."
- Count Ryan, the former Boston College Eagles star, among the many people who consider themselves Tom Brady fans. The two first met last season when the Patriots and Falcons met in Foxborough for a regular season tilt. "I watched Tom all through college," Ryan pointed out, "which was right through their three Super Bowl runs. It was good to finally meet him last year and talk to him today. It is impossible not to see him when you live in Boston because of his star power. I've watched him from a distance and was impressed with how he has handled himself. He was always classy and did things the right way." Asked if there are any particular physical aspects of Brady's game that he tries to emulate, Ryan instead cited an intangible. "Everybody has their own individual style when they go out and play," he explained. "The biggest thing that you may try to emulate is his consistency, not his throwing motion or footwork. He has had a level of consistency that is evident year in and year out, week in and week out. That is the number one thing I would try to do that he has done."
- Unlike at Patriots practice, where the media is situated in a tent on a hillside overlooking the fields, the Falcons, ironically, don't give their beat reporters a bird's eye view. Instead, they allow the media access to the fields right on the field. Working members of the press are stationed in between the right and middle practice fields at the Falcons' three-field outdoor complex. The setting definitely offers a unique perspective on the goings-on, as coaches' and players' conversations can be heard more clearly and the speed of the game is more evident being just a few feet away from the action.