View a collection of the best images from the Patriots joint practice with the New Orleans Saints in Foxborough on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.
With the New Orleans Saints back in town for joint practices, the training camp fields behind Gillette Stadium were overrun with players and fans. There was so much activity with approximately 180 players and dozens of coaches on the field that it may have gone unnoticed to many in attendance when the Patriots lost a couple of significant players to injuries early in the session.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, just a couple of days after coming off PUP, looked sharp running routes in 1-on-1 drills against New Orleans defensive backs. However, after one particular pattern, Edelman immediately reached down for his cleats. It first appeared that he was just re-tying his laces, but he slowly made his way to a cart at the back end of the practice field, where a member of the medical staff soon joined him for several minutes.
Eventually, Edelman got back up and tried to walk the injury off, but shortly afterward, he exited the field from the back and retreated to the locker room.
Edelman has twice had surgery on his left foot to repair a broken bone suffered last November against the New York Giants, so, the immediate assumption was that he aggravated the injury. Subsequent media reports, though, indicated that he escaped serious injury.
Meanwhile, defensive end and co-captain Rob Ninkovich quietly slipped away from the action with the Saints at some point as well. An ESPN report suggested that Ninkovich has sustained a triceps injury and was scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) to determine the severity.
In addition to these two losses from practice, it was noteworthy that starting left tackle Nate Solder did not take part Tuesday. He was not in attendance, either, and it remains unclear why he was absent.
Joints were jumpin'
The atmosphere around Gillette was even more electric than usual for Tuesday's camp practice, with the arrival of the Saints. This marks the fourth time since 2010 that these two clubs have met for joint sessions (three in Foxborough, one last year in West Virginia, where the Saints hold training camp).
"Both teams, I thought, did a good job competing," New Orleans head coach Sean Peyton told reporters afterward. "This is our fourth time with New England. The prior ones have gone well. This provides a lot of tape for us to study. A lot of players are going to get more reps [in joint practice] than they will in the preseason game [Thursday night].
"This helps to sharpen everyone's focus, measure where you're at in some areas. I think it helps a lot. That competitive nature of the sport draws you in. That's why we enjoy it."
In a rematch of last summer's joint practices, cornerback Malcolm Butler and Saints receiver Brandin Cooks squared off quite a bit in 1-on-1 drills and team period action. Butler provided much tighter coverage than he did in the first joint session in West Virginia last summer, and Butler even broke up a would-be touchdown pass intended for Cooks at one point. For the most part, though, Cooks got the better of Butler again Tuesday.
"Oooh, man, I got some work put in on me today," Butler admitted later with a smile, "but that's the goal, to come out here and compete each and every day, go against the best, no matter who it is. Got another [joint practice tomorrow] to get better."
It's a summertime tradition for the NFL to send teams of officiating crews to the various teams' camps for a few days prior to the first preseason game. The team of referees makes a presentation to the clubs to reinforce the new rules changes and points of emphasis for the upcoming season.
Tuesday, the crew led by referee Ron Torbert came to Foxborough and worked with the Patriots and Saints during the joint session.
Among the new rules for 2016, all chop blocks – a double-team with one player blocking high and the other going low on an opponent at the same time – are illegal. The line of scrimmage after touchbacks on kickoffs will now be at the 25, up five yards from before, although touchbacks on punts and other plays from scrimmage will remain at the 20.
Illegal horse collar tackles have now been expanded to include grabbing an opponent's jersey at the nameplate or area around the shoulder pads. Points of emphasis include the so-called "Brady rule" – defenders lunging at a quarterbacks lower body when he's in the pocket – as well as abrupt pre-snap movements by the center or long snapper at the line of scrimmage when the ball is in their hands.
Following Tuesday's practice, Torbert briefed the media and took questions on these new adjustments. According to Torbert, neither the Patriots or Saints seemed to violate or have any trouble adhering to the changes during the joint practice.
"Both teams competed hard and played clean," he remarked.
Nate Ebner may be gone temporarily, but the safety/special teams maven is by no means forgotten by his Patriots teammates. With the club's blessing, Ebner took a leave of absence to take part in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he's a member of the U.S. Rugby Team.
Patriots coaches, including head coach Bill Belichick, sported white t-shirts emblazoned with Ebner's name and number 12 on the back, and "USA" in big letters on the front.
Ebner and Team USA had two matches scheduled on Tuesday, a 17-14 loss to Argentina at noon, and a 5 o'clock tilt with the host nation. Ebner's first game took place at the tail end of the joint session, but the Patriots planned to take a short break from camp life to gather to watch him play in the second match.
"Yeah, Nate is a very popular guy on the team. Everybody loves Nate, his work ethic and what he brings to the team," said safety and co-captain Devin McCourty. "A lot of us can't wait to get in there and watch him do something that he's very passionate about. I think in the secondary, we know he talked to us about trying out for the Olympics before it even came up, so to now see it come full circle and get a chance to watch him in the Olympics is going to be a cool experience."
Buy:Tyler Gaffney – With Dion Lewis still on PUP, there have been more opportunities for other running backs in practice, and Gaffney, the third-year player who's spent the past two seasons on IR, has stood out with a good combination of power, quickness, and pass-catching ability.
Sell:Donald Brown – It's been an unpredictable camp thus far for the veteran free agent, who looked good early, missed some time with an apparent hamstring injury, and hasn't done much since coming back the past few practices.
Play of the Day:When the Saints offense had the ball in the red zone during team period action, QB Drew Brees handed off to running back Tim Hightower. The ball carrier tried to knife he way through the middle of the line of scrimmage, but was met by linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who stripped the ball free. Cornerback Duron Harmon was in the right place at the right time to scoop up the fumble.