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.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. -- For the third time since 2010, the Patriots and Saints have met in August for joint training camp practice sessions, but this is the first time New Orleans has played host – albeit in the mountains of West Virginia.
The stunning Greenbrier resort and its Sports Performance Center earned rave reviews from the Patriots, who've now visiting five other NFL clubs' training camp facilities in recent years.
"It's great to be down here," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters prior to Wednesday's action. "It's a beautiful facility. We came down yesterday and met with Sean [Payton, the Saints head coach] and the Saints staff and they showed us around. I think this is just a great layout. The fields are beautiful, all the facilities are great. The Saints couldn't be more hospitable and accommodating, and the Greenbrier setup is pretty unique, but really it's been great. I look forward to the week here."
"This will be our third time that we've had a chance to work with New England," Payton remarked Wednesday morning. "I feel like the prior practices have been real positive and we look forward to it."
Other joint practices around the NFL this summer have featured ugly, all-out brawls between players from opposing clubs. Payton lamented the fact that while the coaching staffs try to reinforce their message of keeping the practices clean and devoid of violence, the media sensationalizes the fights by showing them repeatedly on television broadcasts.
However, the history between New England and New Orleans under the direction of Belichick and Payton has been nothing but amicable and productive. That's one of the reasons, Payton pointed out, that these two franchises have chosen to renew their acquaintances so frequently.
"We know it's going to be about improving. We're both trying to do the same thing at this point of training camp… it's unfortunate when you see [fighting] happen with other teams."
Wednesday's morning practice may have lacked some of the high-level intensity and pizzazz of previous joint sessions, but it wound up being a beneficial day for both sides, nonetheless. Patriots players came away impressed with the work they got in with the Saints and with the Greenbrier facilities overall.
"We got a lot of good work in," declared tight end Rob Gronkowski. "The Saints are a very good team. In one-on-ones, team [period], they're bringing it, we're bringing it. We're getting a lot of friendly competition out there and it's great for both teams.
"From the weight room to the field, the grass is great. We definitely played football in a first-class setting."
"I think the coaches did a good job of merging the practices together so things can go smooth," defensive end Chandler Jones noted.
"It's unbelievable – first class all the way," said backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, "from where we're staying to the fields out here. It's really nice."
Scary moment for Gronkowski
The overwhelming number of Patriots fans in attendance at the Greenbrier held their collective breath at one point during an 11-on-11 team period. Running back Jonas Gray took a handoff and headed for the left side, where Gronkowski was downfield blocking a Saints defender. Another New Orleans player chased Gray down from the backside and shoved him to the ground. Gray ended up falling on the back of Gronkowski's legs and the tight end fell to the ground.
It looked for a moment like Gronkowski was injured, and he was slow to get up, but he managed to jog to the sideline and only missed on play before returning to the huddle and taking part in the remainder of practice.
"It's football," Gronkowski later said matter-of-factly. "You get rolled up on in practice or a game. I'm glad everything's ok. Nothing to worry about. No, not at all. People get rolled up on all the time. Nothing happened. I got up and went to the next play.
A Patriot, a Saint, and two Panthers
Both Garoppolo and Payton played quarterback collegiately at Eastern Illinois, a fact that was brought to Garoppolo's attention after Wednesday's practice when a member of the media asked who was the better Panther QB.
Garoppolo smiled coyly, responding, "He asked me that in the combine process, I remember, but I'll keep the answer private for now. You'll have to ask him."
Did it cross Garoppolo's mind at the time that Payton and the Saints might have been seriously interested in selecting him?
"It could've been," he acknowledged, "but things worked out the way they did for a reason. I think everything happens for a reason. I'm happy I'm with the Patriots."
New England acquires Cleveland
The Patriots swung a trade with the 49ers on Tuesday before traveling south to West Virginia, sending offensive lineman Jordan Devey to San Francisco in exchange for tight end Asante Cleveland.
"This gives us a little more depth at that position, and we'll see how it goes," Belichick said about Cleveland, a second-year NFL player. "We did a lot of work on him coming out of college from Miami. He's been kind of on the practice squad for San Francisco, a couple games on the roster. We didn't really want to give up Devey, but you've got to give up something to get something. I think hopefully both guys will be able to help both teams in positions of need."
Buy: Danny Amendola – In a summer when New England's top wideouts have mostly been injured and inactive, Amendola has been a bright spot, suiting up every day, making nice catches, and contributing as a kick returner. He's been the most consistent Patriots wide receiver throughout training camp.
*Sell: *Malcolm Butler – Wednesday was by far the second-year corner's least impressive practice in a Patriots uniform. He was beaten several times in one-on-one drills against Saints receivers, then again during 11-on-11 team action, where he was also flagged for pass interference penalties and beaten for a touchdown in the red zone.
Play of the Day: During 11-on-11 against the Saints defense, Tom Brady found Amendola in the back right corner of the end zone. Amendola and Josh Boyce were both lined up to Brady's right, but Boyce appeared to run a wrong pattern, as both he and Amendola ended up in the same area with Saints corners crowding them. But Brady managed to float a perfect pass over their heads and Amendola kept both feet in bounds just before jumping over the pylon in the corner, with only inches to spare. The officiating crew member in the area confirmed the catch and score.