New England faces its third preseason foe, the Carolina Panthers, Friday night in Charlotte, N.C. The third week of the preseason is traditionally when most of a team's regular starting players see their most work, compared to the other three exhibition contests. As a result, it's seen by most observers as the most important tune-up week of the summer.
Before his team went back on the practice field this afternoon, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick went to great lengths to explain to reporters that this is not – repeat, NOT – a regular season week. However, now that public camp practices have ended and we've entered the second half of the preseason slate, there is definitely a difference in approach.
"Just more preparation for the [opponent], less on us," said Belichick, "changing the practice schedule, changing the media schedule, changing our preparation schedule, change our practice format a little bit. It all changes.
"We're not game-planning [for Carolina]," he emphasized, "we're working on things we need to work on… It is a routine that we can start to work toward, become more efficient with as players, coaches, just the overall time usage of preparing for a team. We'll start to put that process into place as well this week."
Belichick also acknowledged that, with only two weeks to go before the regular season begins, he, his staff, and players are juggling a lot of projects, individually and collectively. That includes taking a peak at the Houston Texans, whom the Patriots will host in the regular season opener Sept. 9.
"Yeah, sure. There's about 20 things going on this time of year," he continued. "That's the way it always is, between our team, preseason games, evaluating players, making roster decisions, talking with other teams in the league [about personnel and potential transactions]. That's the way it is every preseason, every training camp. That's the way it is now and that's the way it'll be for the next couple of weeks.
"Each week of the preseason is a step closer toward preparing for the regular season opener and the 16-game regular season schedule. So, with each succeeding week, there are more things that are closer to a regular season week. None of those weeks are regular season weeks, but it progressively gets closer and more like it.
"It's a big week for all of us... to go on the road and play Carolina," the head coach concluded. "Looking forward to that opportunity and kind of getting into a little bit of routine for the week... if we don't take advantage of it, it's a missed opportunity, just more time wasted that we could have been doing something else."
After Sunday's walkthrough session, Belichick had his players practice in full pads Monday. All but these five Patriots were able to suit up: right tackle Marcus Cannon (unknown), linebacker Harvey Langi (kidney, according to media reports), rookie running back Sony Michel (knee), rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (left Achilles), and, new to the absentee list, rookie tight end Ryan Izzo (unknown).
Running back Rex Burkhead appeared to take part in his first meaningful practice activity since Aug. 7, when he reportedly suffered a knee problem that has kept him sidelined ever since. Burkhead also attended yesterday's practice, but as we noted in Sunday's update on patriots.com, it's not uncommon for players who aren't seriously injured to take part in walkthroughs. Burkhead's appearance today, therefore, is more noteworthy as an indication of his level of progress in returning from this injury.
Media were granted a full 20 minutes of practice viewing Monday, which encompassed group stretching and two individual/position drill periods. Practice will open briefly to media again on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Continue to check back here on patriots.com for written, audio, and video reports from practice, locker room interviews, and press conferences.