ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It seems the Lions and Patriots are ready and eager to play a preseason game.
Originally scheduled for 90 minutes, the third and final joint training camp practice between Detroit and New England only ran half that long here at the Lions’ suburban headquarters. Players and coaches were expected to be on the Lions’ double practice fields by 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, but didn’t actually appear until around 10:15.
However, by 11 o’clock, both sides looked satisfied enough with what they did during their several walkthrough periods and elected to call it a day.
From a Patriots perspective, player attendance was status quo for this week – relatively good news, actually, given that rookie receiver N’Keal Harry appeared to be dealing with some discomfort in his right hamstring during Tuesday’s practice. Harry was in uniform and taking what seemed to be his normal reps in the offensive walkthrough periods. It remains to be seen just how much the team’s top 2019 draft pick will actually play in Thursday night’s preseason opener at Ford Field.
If Harry is sufficiently fit, it appears the Patriots avoided any significant injuries during the three days of joint practices with Detroit.
Of equal importance to the Patriots – who won the Super Bowl last year despite a losing 3-5 regular season record away from Gillette Stadium – is showing themselves that they can play well on the road this season. These past few days in Greater Detroit have been a valuable opportunity to begin the 2019 campaign with a road challenge. They’ll have another next week when they travel to Nashville for three days of joint practices with the Tennessee Titans.
“We know it’s just part of our process to grow,” explained CB Jason McCourty. “Each year is going to bring new challenges. We know [our road record] was something that hurt us last year and this [week] brought an opportunity to work on that, whatever it is – your routine, coming out to practice and trying to start fast, getting off the airplane and being able to rehydrate and get going. All those things are challenges that are going to be with this 2019 team that we have to work toward. This trip brought the challenge of that.”
“Big week,” WR Phillip Dorsett remarked about the past three days with Detroit, “because you’re not just going against your team, you’re going against unfamiliar people… you’re not home, you’re uncomfortable. We were 3-5 away last year. So, this was a good start for us, going away and playing somebody else on their home field and playing good football.”
New England had no joint practices last year in training camp, either at home or away from Foxborough, nor any extended regular season road trips. Such occasions are generally beneficial for promoting a sense of esprit de corps among players that often manifests itself on the playing field.
Having a couple of long road trips to start the 2019 preseason could pay dividends down the road, if you’ll pardon the expression, while providing an immediate diversion from the routine of training camp.
“Yeah, I think that’s definitely important for a team,” continued Dorsett, “for the camaraderie you have, just building a championship team, which we’re trying to do. I feel like we were really focused last year, but this is a whole new team. We have to build that camaraderie off the field again and on the field.”
“The biggest [difference],” McCourty pointed out about joint practice on the road, “you have no car [here], so, you can’t go anywhere. When you get a break throughout the day, you’re confined really to the hotel because you don’t know where else to go.
“I think the awesome thing about it during the middle of training camp [is] you get a chance to continue to build bonds and that chemistry with your teammates. A lot of times during those breaks, we’re all just hanging out in one of the ballrooms where we have food or whatever and guys are telling stories, playing music, or laughing about something and getting to know your teammates.”
The past few days have been productive for the Patriots (and presumably the Lions), yet while it’s a business trip, there has been some time to socialize, albeit briefly. A number of players, coaches, and football staff who’ve worked in New England are now with Detroit, and vice versa. Over the past few days, as Dorsett acknowledged, there’ve been times on the field and immediately after practice when hands were shaken in greeting, hugs given, pleasantries exchanged, jokes cracked.
Now, though, both sides are prepared to take that next natural step toward a competitive, game atmosphere Thursday night, even if players like Dorsett and McCourty might not see as much action as they would during the regular season.
“Feels good,” added Dorsett. “Haven’t suited up [for a game] since [Super Bowl LIII in] February. It’s going to be good to put the uniform on again.”
“It’s always fun,” McCourty maintained. “This’ll be my 11th [NFL] year and you never can take for granted the opportunity to play in this league and how special it is – preseason game, regular season game, whatever it is. You get a chance to play in an NFL football game, even for some of the younger guys, it’s nerves. For the other [veteran] guys, it’s anxiety because you just want to get going. So, it’s always fun and always an honor to get a chance to take the field.”
McCourty’s advice to younger players trying to make a positive impression in the preseason?
“Oh, play fast and play aggressive. You don’t want to make any mistakes because you know the coaching staff is watching, but you also have to remember there are 31 other teams that may have no idea that you just made a mistake on that play. If you’re flying around and on a mistake, you get a sack, they’re going to give you a plus on that play. So, you’ve got to remember when you get out there, it’s just football.”
If at first you don’t succeed…
“I always say, ‘If you make the next play, the last play doesn’t matter,’” Dorsett told reporters Wednesday. He was explaining how he and QB Tom Brady connected Tuesday for what may have been the most exciting play of practice – a long touchdown completion between the two teammates.
A few plays earlier during the 11-on-11 situational period, in which New England needed a touchdown to win a simulated end-of-game scenario, Brady looked for Dorsett deep downfield, but the throw fell incomplete.
That didn’t stop to duo from trying again shortly thereafter with a long ball that resembled the touchdown grab Dorsett made against Kansas City at the end of the first half of last season’s AFC Championship Game.
“I would say it’s just trust. Trust that if you throw it up there, hopefully the receiver can make a play for you,” Dorsett went on. “We didn’t get the first one, but we got the second one. That’s just the trust we have. We’ve got to keep going, though. Still a long way to go. Second week of camp, first preseason game. It’s a long season and I feel like we can keep building. I believe I’m one person [Brady] can trust. We’ve made some critical plays in the past. I think he sees me working hard, and I’m not going to stop working hard.”