WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. –Though the Patriots have never practiced jointly with the Houston Texans, there's a tremendous amount of familiarity between the two teams. Not only have they faced each other frequently in recent regular seasons and the playoffs, the Patriots have served as a farm system for Houston's coaching staff, starting with head coach Bill O'Brien, a former Patriots offensive coordinator.
Since taking over as Texans boss in 2014, O'Brien has hired a number of former Patriots players and coaches on his staff, including Mike Vrabel, Wes Welker, Larry Izzo, and Romeo Crennel.
"I have a ton of respect for this entire coaching staff. Obviously, I have a lot of connections with people on this staff," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters at the outset.
[Bill O'Brien]'s done a great job. [He] won the division the past two years, had a playoff win last year. The program has gotten stronger every year. I'm sure they're continuing to head up.
"Mike was a tremendous player. He was a very smart player, astute, played all the positions. He really works at the game. He's a grinder, tough, hard-nosed, good football coach. He's done a great job in his role at Ohio State and then down here. He's working with a lot of great people like Romeo and Billy.
"We go all the way back to about 35 years with Romeo, several different organizations. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Romeo as a person, a coach, a leader. Really a great friend, a great coach. He did a lot for my coaching career. I'm glad I had the opportunity to coach with him as much as I did. He helped me a lot."
It comes as little surprise, then, that when the two clubs met Tuesday for their first joint training camp practice at the famous Greenbrier Resort, it proved successful for both sides.
"We got a lot of good work done today – ran a bunch of plays, a lot of different situations," O'Brien observed after the first of three days with the Patriots. "I just really believe in the joint practices, especially this time of year when you're developing your team and working on fundamentals.
"It's a really good opportunity for us to go up against a great offense. I'm sure it's a great opportunity for them to go up against a good defense on our side of the ball. Offensively, we did some decent things against a good defense. It's good to go against a well-coached defense like that. I thought the guys practiced like pros on both sides."
The New England Patriots visit the Houston Texans for joint practices at the The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV on Tuesday, August 15, 2017.
For the Patriots, whose offense is loaded with talent, the chance to compete against a top-rated defense like Houston's made for a great environment when the two sides faced off in position drills and full-team periods.
"It's good to go out and get to play against such a hard-nosed, tough franchise like the Houston Texans," wide receiver Julian Edelman remarked afterward. "You're pretty familiar with a lot of the guys on their coaching staff. Their stories and their journeys on how they got to where they're at makes you respect and realize how tough and hard-nosed this team really is. You know it's going to be a battle and it's going to make us better, ultimately."
"It's great. You can really gauge where our team is," echoed backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo. "We're going through training camp every day, had a good week with Jacksonville last week [in Foxborough] and another opponent this week. Like you said, they're talented across the board defensively so it's a good test for us."
At Patriots training camp, it's not unusual for thousands of fans to show up and create a game-like atmosphere during practices, particularly joint sessions with visiting clubs. The crowd at the Greenbrier was considerably smaller, though a large percentage of them were supporters of the Patriots.
The two sides will meet again Wednesday in front of a public audience, then conduct a joint walkthrough that's closed to media and the public on Thursday before they both head to Houston for Saturday's second preseason contest.
"We looked at some goals we'd both like to achieve, so hopefully we'll be able to get those done here in the next couple of days," added Belichick.
"The big thing today is the work we got in," O'Brien emphasized. "We really worked well together with them. Our practices are similar, our tempos are similar, so, we really got a lot out of it… I thought it was a good, competitive day."
Players appreciate Greenbrier history
The Greenbrier resort has deep roots in West Virginia and American history. Though the current main structure was built in 1913, the property has been a destination for rest-and-relaxation seekers since 1778. This 11,000-acre site also once served as the emergency shelter for the United States Congress in the event of a nuclear attack on America.
Many of the Patriots had been here as recently as 2015, when the Patriots and New Orleans Saints – who then used the facility as their training camp – met for joint sessions. Belichick, however, felt it important to brief his current squad on the significance of the Greenbrier's history, including the deadly flooding that ripped through this Allegheny Mountain valley area last summer.
For wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Greenbrier is almost like a summer home. As a member of the Saints the past three seasons, he's now at his fourth training camp session here. Yet, he still admitted he learned some facts from Belichick's tutorial.
"I think it's great, not just going somewhere new, but learning about it, too," said Cooks. "It's special. Especially the things that the Greenbrier and West Virginia went through last year. Respecting the place, respecting the area, respecting what they went through. You come here and you're that much more thankful, because you see what happened last year and now how beautiful this place still is."
Edelman, who didn't accompany the club on the previous Greenbrier visit, was thankful as well for the lesson Belichick provided.
"Coach actually gave us a history lesson that 26 presidents have stayed here, there was a bomb shelter in fact for the cold war, there are 700 rooms… It's actually pretty cool to come here and see the history, the beauty of the mountains. The people have been very welcoming, especially after the floods a year ago. The way they've treated us with such hospitality shows what kind of people they are."
sorry, not sorry
Second-year linebacker Elandon Roberts hails from Texas, just outside Houston, where he also attended college at the University of Houston. Naturally, this connection led one reporter from the area to ask if Roberts was a Texans fan back then.
Roberts initially took a diplomatic approach to his response before coming clean.
"I liked a lot of college teams when I was growing up. I watched the Texans, but I wasn't a Texans fan," he laughed.
Buy: Alan Branch –Has practiced two straight days after coming off PUP.
Sell: Mike Gillislee – Has barely been active in training camp and wasn't seen on the field at the Greenbrier Tuesday.
Play of the Day: In one 11-on-11 team period, QB Tom Brady fired a pass to WR Julian Edelman in the back left corner of the end zone, over the heads of two Texans defenders, for a tiptoe touchdown.