PHILADELPHIA – Cloud cover and a persistent thunderstorm threat lingering in the Philadelphia area all week, and on Thursday, increased temperatures and humidity also paid a visit to the NovaCare Center, where the Eagles and Patriots finished up three days of joint practices. The two teams will square off Friday night in the preseason opener for both clubs.
Today's session was a walkthrough – players donned helmets, jerseys, and shorts and ran through most drills at half-speed (7-on-7 period was the one exception). This is standard operating procedure for NFL teams the day before a game.
Of note today, second-year starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left the field with strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash after the team finished stretching. Dennard sat out most of Wednesday's workout after apparently injuring himself early in a 1-on-1 coverage drill. Dennard later returned to the field, in uniform but walking slowly and gingerly, with Nash at his side. His status for the preseason game seems uncertain at this point.
Meanwhile, plenty of other Patriots are ready to see their first game action of 2013. For some, like rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, it will be the first NFL game action of their careers.
"Definitely jitters a little bit, just because it's something new," he admitted. "I'm ready for it. I'm excited to play tomorrow."
Even veterans like returning co-captain Logan Mankins concede they still get anxious before the first game action of the season.
"It's always a big deal, getting that first one out of the way, getting your game day routine down again, get those first-game jitters out of the way. That's always a good feeling."
Mankins and other Patriots starters, who likely won't see much action in the first preseason tilt, are grateful for the added game-like reps they received this week in the joint workouts with the Eagles.
"Yeah, we got a lot of reps against different types of players than we have on our team," said Mankins. "It's always good to get as many different looks as possible. The more you get early on, the more it helps throughout the year."
Someone like backup QB Ryan Mallett, however, may see considerable time on Friday night.
"I'm just trying to do my job. If my number's called, I'll be ready… I can't wait for tomorrow night," Mallett told reporters. "I feel like I've improved a lot overall. I feel confident and ready to go."
Though they weren't actual games, the joint practices, at times, had a game-like atmosphere to them, with players loudly exhorting their teammates during 11-on-11 scrimmaging with an NFL officiating crew overseeing the action.
"It's fun just going out here and making plays, period. It's a good deal having our teammates cheer us on, after I made a play and a couple of our other receivers made plays. It's all fun and games."
It wasn't exactly all fun and games for Dobson, though, on Tuesday. He was punished by head coach Bill Belichick and forced to watch practice from the sidelines following a brief scuffle with Eagles cornerback Cary Williams.
"It happened and it's over. I've got to just learn from it."
The learning experience, for Dobson and the rest of the 2013 Patriots, continues on Friday night. Until then, the team is thankful for a productive week of work with Philadelphia.
"We're making progress… not where we want to be. Nowhere close yet," Mankins remarked, "but I think we're headed in the right direction."
"They've been good," added Dobson. "I feel like we got a lot done in these three days. I feel like we're taking steps forward as a team, and that's the goal."
"We'll go out there and compete like we have all week. The Eagles are a great organization. It's been a tough week of competition," concluded Mallett.
"[The joint sessions] have been great. Good competition. It's going to be a battle tomorrow."