It had been a relatively quiet training camp all summer until Saturday, when the tempo picked up and tempers heated up along with the temperature.
On a pass play during 11-on-11 action towards the end of the morning session, rookie defensive tackle Malcom Brown and offensive lineman Ryan Groy got into an altercation that led to punches being thrown and Brown's helmet coming off. Teammates quickly stepped in and broke up the fight, but the coaching staff sent Groy immediately to the locker room. Brown took a penalty lap around the field and upon his return to the huddle was also told to call it a day.
Both players returned to the field after practice and milled about for a while, but did not interact with one another any further.
"You can't do that," co-captain Devin McCourty remarked afterward. "Coach Belichick always handles that situation. It's never a big deal. It happens and it's over. We move on."
"Obviously, there are things that are going to happen in camp," said running back LeGarrette Blount. "We're here all days, tempers flaring. At the same time, you have to be able to control your temper and know what you can and can't do."
"Practice is always going to be competitive," defensive end Chandler Jones pointed out. "You might see a time where you get an extra push in or something. That's just how the sport goes, so you've kind of got to nullify that by just playing. That's just how practice goes. It's very competitive."
All-out brawls are rare in football, where the participants are covered in equipment from head to toe, but there are not uncommon during training camp. A full-on fracas at Texans-Redskins joint practices this past week, captured by HBO's "Hard Knocks" TV show crew, illustrates how volatile such practices can be. The Patriots will travel this coming week to West Virginia to practice with the New Orleans Saints, a club that has visited Foxborough on two prior occasions for joint practices.
"It's always fun," McCourty said of the joint sessions. "It helps training camp a little when you get to practice against a different team, see different looks, not seeing the same guys and hitting them every day. It's always good to see other good players, see a guy like Drew Brees in practice. It'll definitely help."
"Of course," added Blount. "It's always good to bang against different guys than your own. Personally, I like to get a feel for guys I'm going to play against, see what they're going to show us. It's good to beat up on some other guys."
"It's always fun to go out and compete against different guys," echoed Jones. "We do go against each other every single day, so it will be fun to go out and smack pads a little bit with the Saints, for sure."
Jones, however, doesn't expect things between the Patriots and Saints to get any more physical than that. In fact, he revealed that he's never been in an on-field fight in his football career.
"No, no one has ever tried to fight me at practice, no one. I've been playing football since third grade and I've never gotten into a fight at practice, never."
Could that be the case because Jones' brother Jon is an MMA champion fighter?
"I don't know. That could be it. I might know a few moves here and there," Jones grinned. "Actually, I do know some moves, so maybe that's why. That's why."
The more you can do
Versatility is a way of life on the Patriots roster. It's commonplace for players to get reps at positions other than their normal ones.
Duron Harmon is the latest example. The veteran safety found himself playing cornerback for a few plays at the end of the Packers game, but was quick not to make too much of the move.
"Yeah, it's part of the job, just doing what the coaches ask me to do," he said after Saturday's practice. "I don't think it's that big of a deal. Just doing my job. I think out of all the plays, it was one pass, the rest were runs."
Harmon acknowledged that he's more comfortable at safety, but welcomes the added reps at corner to add to his skill set.
"Definitely. I've been playing safety since high school. Haven't really played corner since then. But you have to be versatile."
For advice, Harmon said he spoke with McCourty, who began his career as a corner before converting to safety.
"He tells me to work on my man-to-man skills. What better way than to play corner?" Harmon noted. "I'm just feeling things out and seeing where it goes."
Blount looks sharp
Blount did not suit up against the Packers in the preseason opener, but was back on the field Saturday and looked no worse for the wear after suffering what originally looked like a severe right knee injury in a recent practice.
"I have to make sure I'm better and healthy enough to play," he told reporters Saturday. "You always want to be out there with your guys, though."
While Blount managed to walk off the field under his own power at the time of the injury, he remained on the ground for quite some time while the medical staff was evaluating him. But after being taken inside, Blount said he was fortunate to survive the scare.
"You never know. It's not a good feeling until you find out. It turned out to be minor."
Buy: Chris Harper – After catching all seven passes thrown his way against Green Bay in the preseason opener, Harper continued his hot streak with a spectacular touchdown catch in 11-on-11 action at Saturday's practice.
*Sell: *Josh Boyce – The third-year receiver struggled against Green Bay (just two catches in 11 targets) and had more drops, including a would-be touchdown on a deep ball during the team period Saturday.
Play of the Day: During red zone 11-on-11, Harper ran a great route to get behind rookie Jimmy Jean in the left corner of the end zone. QB Jimmy Garoppolo fired a pass that was a bit high, but Harper leapt and snagged the ball with both hands as he fell backwards, managing to keep both feet in bounds for the score.