Check out our favorite photos from Patriots joint practice with the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.
Once a novelty, joint training camp practice have become the NFL norm over the past decade. This week, the Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars for three days of collaborative workouts before New England visits the Houston Texans at their out-of-town facility in West Virginia next week for similar activities.
The Jaguars became the seventh different opponent the Patriots have either hosted or visited in joint sessions since 2010. While the inclusion of an extra 90-man roster might seem to overcrowd the practice fields, the benefits of joint practices clearly outweigh any drawbacks.
"They're really beneficial," declared tight end Rob Gronkowski. "Obviously it's always good to go versus each other as a team, but when you get a new opponent, when you get new looks, new defense, new players, it's always great. It's like more of a game feel and everything. It's very beneficial for myself and the whole team."
"Today is my first time going against another team in training camp," remarked linebacker David Harris, who never had the experience in 10 previous seasons as a New York Jet. "It was good to hit someone other than ourselves… it's a high level of competition on both sides. It's a good measuring stick. That's what these practices are for, to see if you can carry over from the normal practice. We're still learning, it's still training camp. Still have a long way to go, but it's a good start."
While the execution on both sides was, at times, less than desirable, Jacksonville's coaches and players agreed that the first day of work with the Patriots proved successful overall.
"We left plays out there, but we'll come back better tomorrow," Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye predicted. "We'll probably see something new from them, but we know what to expect with the practice. The tempo's a little bit slower. We're not doing all the no-huddle like we usually do, and there are going to be fewer plays. We'll just have to take advantage of all the opportunities. We competed, [the Patriots receivers] made great catches. We've just got to finish."
"I think it gives us a good feel for where we are," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone told reporters afterward. "There are so many positives to coming and working with another team. I thought we got a great day done today. When you practice like this, obviously, against a great football team, it's going to make our team better. That was the goal in coming up here."
As productive as they are for the teams, joint practices also provide considerable entertainment value for fans, as evidenced by the tens of thousands who showed up to watch Monday's sessions.
"Yeah, they were super loud from the beginning. But they always give a boost, for sure," added Gronkowski.
"I most definitely got winded out there, going hard each and every play," cornerback Malcolm Butler admitted about the game-like atmosphere, "but that's what we need. The season is near… well, the season is here. Practice turns into game reality. Got to work hard."
Harris feeling more at home
The aforementioned Harris was one of a handful of Patriots defenders outfitted with the in-helmet communication system that allows players to hear play calls from coaches. Represented by a green dot decal on the back of their helmets, the technology is normally outfitted in helmets of players who are entrusted with the responsibility of relaying the information to their teammates on the field.
Harris wore the green dot for many years while with the Jets, so, the role is a familiar one for him. But it takes on added significance with 2016 co-captain and defensive signal caller Dont'a Hightower toiling on the PUP list thus far in camp.
"Even though Dont'a's not out there, he's been in my ear. His locker is right next to mine," Harris explained, "so, he's always giving tips and hints on how to play certain things. He's been a huge help."
Meanwhile, Harris admits he's becoming more comfortable with his new place on the Patriots depth chart and as a leader on the team.
"Being in my 11th year, I do have a lot of experience. If a young wants to come ask me questions, I have no problem giving my advice. I've seen a lot of things in this league, but this locker room has a lot of leaders already. I'm just another piece."
After 13 NFL seasons, the first 11 of which were spent with the Patriots, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is calling it a career. Wilfork plans on going out in style, as he foreshadowed in a professionally produced video that accompanied his announcement via his Twitter account Monday.
During the minute-long video, Wilfork – decked only in denim overalls, sneakers, and a baseball cap with the word "RIBS" emblazoned on the front – gets his cooking groove on in front of a grill in the parking lot of a stadium.
As he walks away from the camera, a message is flashed on the screen hinting that Wilfork will be grilling among tailgaters who attend the Patriots' regular season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 7. Kingsford brand charcoal is sponsoring what's being dubbed "Vince's Farewell Tailgate."
Wilfork's former teammate, Julian Edelman, tweeted the following reaction to today's news:
Buy: Brandin Cooks – On a predominantly sloppy day for both offenses, the Patriots wide receiver made a couple of phenomenal catches during 11-on-11 team periods later in practice. He continues to build a solid chemistry with QB Tom Brady.
Sell: New England's offense –Dropped passes, poor throws, and miscommunication between QBs and receivers defined most of the first joint practice session with Jacksonville.
Play of the Day:One exception to the sloppiness came when WR Chris Hogan, battling Jaguars CB Tyler Patmon on a deep go-route to the left corner of the end zone nearest the spectators, hauled in a perfectly placed Brady pass over his shoulder. Hogan kept both feet in bounds while fighting off Patmon to complete the scoring play that brought the thousands of fans on-site to their feet.