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Malcolm Butler struggles; Patriots/Saints practice blogservations

Facing one of the game's top passers and passing offenses, the Super Bowl hero had a tough day on the practice fields of West Virginia.


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. - There are few NFL practice fields more welcoming than the Saints facility at the Greenbrier Resort nestled into the picturesque greenery of the Alleghany Mountains.

But at least one Patriots player felt anything but welcome in the warm, sunny environment of the Sports Performance Center at America's Resort as New England opened join practice action with the Saints Wednesday morning.

Less than a week after showing up relatively well in a preseason-opening battle with future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his Packers offense in Foxborough, Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was on the wrong end of the competitive ledger more often than not in a matchup with Drew Brees' impressive passing attack.

Check out our favorite photos from the Patriots joint practice with the Saints on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at the the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV.

From 1-on-1 drills to 7-on-7 action and right though 11-on-11 snaps, Butler was picked apart by the precision passing of Brees. As Butler develops, progresses and evolves from Div. II undrafted rookie to now the presumed starting left cornerback on Bill Belichick's retooled defense, this was probably his worst practice session since arriving in New England.

Mama said there'd be days like these, and many a corner have had days like this against Brees. But it was the first time this summer Butler has been on the receiving end of such a beating.

Of course that's what the work in West Virginia this week is all about. It's about seeing a new look, a new player across the ball and fighting a new battle. It's a valuable teaching tool that both Belichick and Saints boss Sean Payton raved about prior to the joint sessions, which the teams have worked together a number of times in recent years.

While Butler and the Patriots defense was dealing with Brees, New Orleans was having its own issues with Tom Brady and his targets. Brady was a full participant in the joint session a day after missing practice in Foxborough to deal with his ongoing legal issues in New York regarding his four-game NFL suspension.

Though Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo dealt with issues in the pass rush at times, No. 12 looked sharp when he had time to throw and put forth a nice response to Brees' own success.

Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the same field for two Super Bowl-winning coaches while a Super Bowl hero dealt with some growing pains. It was a productive, controlled, professional day of work for those lucky enough to be in attendance at one of the more unique practice settings in the league.

Beyond Brady, Brees and Butler here are one man's blogservations from the practice fields of West Virginia:

--Sixteen total Patriots were absent from the practice field. That includes the PUP crew (Brandon LaFell, Dane Fletcher, Ryan Wendell and Chris Jones) as well as Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Darryl Roberts, Travaris Cadet, Eric Martin, Bryan Stork, Rufus Johnson, Joe Vellano, Trey Flowers, Caylin Hauptmann, Jake Bequette and Scott Chandler. Josh Kline was on the field wearing his jersey but not dressed in pads or a helmet, with the veteran lineman just watching the workout.

Bill Belichick talks with pro golfer Bubba Watson (left) and basketball great Jerry West. Photos by David Silverman.

--Golfer Bubba Watson and NBA legend/logo inspiration Jerry West were in attendance for the workout and spent some time chatting with Belichick.

--Both Dont'a Hightower and Butler had to get a little extra lower-body stretching help form strength coach Harold Nash early in positional group drills. Both players took part fully the workout, with Hightower now entrenched in a full practice role since shedding his red, non-contact jersey.

--Brees and the Saints backup quarterbacks were among the first players on the field well before the start of practice. The group did a pretty extensive warmup routine that included walking/jogging up and down the field while doing various arm stretches/warmups. It was unlike anything I've ever seen in such workouts or pregame settings.

--A helicopter landed on the helipad just a few hundred feet from the practice fields prior to the start of the workout. Not sure which bigwig got the first-class service. The helicopter then left shortly after the conclusion of the practice.


--Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown was at the workout. The New England legend actually did conditioning running with the team to close out the session.

--Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reunited with some of his New England connections prior to practice including Brady, Josh McDaniels and Brian Daboll. Ryan was the Patriots linebackers coach on Belichick's staff from 2000 to 2003 before taking a coordinator job with the Raiders.

--Brady did his usual warmup work with various footwork drills while tethered to Nash. He also waved to a group loud New England fans in attendance.

--Speaking of Patriots fans, they were the majority of what was the Saints largest practice crowd of the summer aside from their team scrimmage. Somewhere in the range of 70 percent of the fans watching the joint workout appeared to be New England supporters.

--Though the practice was warm with a mix of sun and clouds, there were some rain showers afterwards as players spoke with the media.

--The Saints use an interesting whiffle-type plastic football on a stick to simulate snaps for some drills.

--With Stork and Kline absent and Jordan Devey having been traded, undrafted rookie David Andrews took seemingly the bulk of snaps at center. He struggled at times, especially with shotgun snaps to Garoppolo. He had one low one that rolled to the backup and another that was high and right past the passer.

--The Patriots defense line group uses oversized blue garbage barrels to give the look of an offense line in Foxborough. Today, the group used orange traffic barrels for the duty.

--There was a crew of officials on the field throughout, throwing flags at various times for various infractions. It appeared that the crew may have included college officials as well as NFL rules enforcers.

[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="351216"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]--Butler's long day got going from the first snap of 1-on-1s when Brandon Coleman beat him down the right side for a touchdown from Brees.

--During that early part of practice there were actually six different sets of 1-on-1 battles going on simultaneously, including both pass coverage and rush/protection.

--Sebastian Vollmer won is early matchup with Cameron Jordan, stunning and then overpowering the Saints defensive end. Nate Solder also impressively took care of Kasim Edebali.

--Overall in the 1-on-1s, it seemed the offensive players were winning the bulk of the battles all over the field.

--Never seen this before, but the grounds crew actually came on the fields at various points throughout the workout between drills to fill divots and attend to the beautiful turf. Guess that's how it goes on a resort.

--As was the case last Thursday night in the preseason opener, Josh Boyce came up empty on a couple deep ball attempts in the practice. One it looked like he either tripped or got tangled up with a Saints defender before he could get to the Brady bomb. The other looked catchable as he fell to the turf in the right side of the end zone but he was not able to complete the catch. After a strong start to camp, Boyce has really fallen off in the last week or so.

--Brady continues to build a nice rapport with Brandon Gibson. The veteran addition has caught the ball well and seems to always be open crossing the field. He's making a strong push to be the team's No. 4 receiver on the depth chart.

--During kickoff return work Danny Amendola and James Develin were the first group of returners, followed by Boyce and Robert McClain.

--Jonathan Krause had to take a lap for a false start flag in 11-on-11. Jabaal Sheard had a lap earlier in the workout.

--The first group of linemen in most drills included Nate Solder, Shaq Mason, Andrews, Tre' Jackson and then a rotation of guys at right tackle with Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming all getting a look.

--Jordan did push Solder back into Brady in one 11-on-11 rep.

--There was a hold-your-breath moment in the team action. Jonas Gray had a run off left tackle on which he was hit and then rolled up into the legs of Rob Gronkowski, who was out wide blocking. Gronkowski didn't stay down long, though, and after practice said he was no worse for the wear.

--New technology and cameras have been a major story throughout the NFL this summer. The Saints are apparently part of the new generation as they use a camera on a long pole extended in the air behind the offensive huddle in many team drills.

--The Patriots continue to work on a lot of different personnel groupings in the secondary, though nearly all of them include Butler at left corner. Today there was a five-DB look with Butler, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson, with McCourty working in coverage outside the numbers.

--Mason had a big, springing block for Brandon Bolden in 11-on-11 action that opened up a legit big run.

--It was another day where Brady seemed to take all the first-team reps, Garoppolo the second and Ryan Lindley didn't get a chance to do much until an "opportunity" session near the conclusion of the workout.

--Both Brady and Garoppolo were sacked or chased from the pocket by pressure at various points. Akiem Hicks had one notable sack on Brady, while Parys Haralson beat Cannon to get to Garoppolo.

--Chung had a would-be sack of Brees on a blitz out of the slot in team action. The safety seemed to let Payton, who was watching from behind his offense, know about it.

--Kevin Williams actually got to Brady's legs on a goal line handoff from the backside on one play, No. 12 just barely getting rid of the ball to his back.

--Brady rolled to his right to find Gibson for a nice red zone touchdown.

--Garoppolo had another day where he held onto the ball for too long on too many snaps.

--Much like we've seen in Foxborough, the teams' used a 20-second play clock instead of the more traditional 25 seconds.

--In one of his coverage snaps on the outside, McCourty perfectly blanketed Coleman on a fade route in the left side of the end zone.

--Brady hit Chris Harper for a big gain in a blown coverage during a hurry-up drill late.

--Brady had a beautiful touchdown throw to Amendola in the back right corner of the end zone, although it was strange that Boyce was actually in nearly the same spot on the play. Probably not exactly how it was drawn up.

--A dime package late in the secondary included Butler, Tarell Brown, McCourty, Chung, Jordan Richards and Harmon.

--Butler drew multiple flags for pass interference on one play covering Coleman on the numbers.

--Brees had his own pretty touchdown throw in the red zone in which he got the ball over Richards to find Josh Morgan on the back line of the end zone after he'd beaten Butler.

--Payton took a unique viewing position during the late 11-on-11 action, watching from the line of scrimmage while on the Patriots sideline.

--Dont'a Hightower was beaten for a catch over the middle but kept up with the play and right at the whistle punched the ball out for a would-be turnover.

--Brady had a rather long conversation with Michael Lombardi on the Patriots sideline when he was not in on 11-on-11 action and special teams work.

--Stephen Gostkowski was solid late with his field goals and PATs. He hit six of his eight kicks ranging from 33-43 yards or so. He missed one from around 38 yards wide right and had one blocked, but hard to tell if it was a scripted block for the Saints on a PAT attempt.

--The line in front of Lindley during the "opportunity" work was, from left to right, Chris Martin, Chris Barker, Ryan Groy, Mark Asper and Fleming.

--Both teams did conditioning work to end practice.

--Patriots meeting with the media after the workout included Wilson, LeGarrette Blount, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Gronkowski, Garoppolo and Hightower.

--The Patriots and Saints will hold another joint practice session on Thursday morning at 9:30 at the Greenbrier. The workout is open to the public if you happen to be in the area!

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