Things started to get competitive at Patriots practice on Friday, as the offense and defense faced each other for the first time in three sessions. While everyone has jumped in and gotten their feet wet, the overall involvement of the rookies has been impressive, with players like Kyle Dugger, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene all making some notable plays in just their third practice as professional football players.
"I think all of our rookies have worked extremely hard," said Bill Belichick on Webex prior to practice. "I mean, they're in deep water and turbulent water and it's going to get rougher, just in terms of the volume and the level of competition and becoming a professional athlete and the full day and the consecutive days that get strung together with very high demands, both physically, mentally and rest and recovery and all that.
"It's a hard-working, conscientious, diligent group that they have a lot that they're going to have to absorb. We'll get a much better evaluation of where they are in the next week to 10 days when things start happening on the football field and we start playing some football."
Veterans like John Simon are doing their part to help get the youngsters ready to jump in when the Dolphins are scheduled to come to town in four weeks.
"As vets we're just trying to help them as much as we can," said Simon on Monday after wrapping up practice. "I know it's crunch time for them and they've got a lot going on, there's a lot of bullets flying, especially now that we're on the field. They've done a pretty good job with it, we just have to take it day to day. They're doing well, you have to be in your playbook every night. Like I said, us as vets, we're trying to help them along the way."
Now in a position group that looks decidedly different than it did in 2019, Simon is suddenly one the most experienced members of the front seven and could play an even bigger role this season without names like Hightower, Collins and Van Noy surrounding him.
"Those guys were a big part of the defense, we're a different team this year," admitted Simon. "We play with what we have. We've got a lot of young guys who are smart, willing to go out there and play hard and it's our job as vets to make sure they're ready to go."
Friday's uptick in competition was a welcome sign for everyone that real football is getting closer.
"Today was the first day you actually lined up against another person and covered them and there's balls being thrown and everything," said Jason McCourty. "So I think there's a lot of growth that will take place and this is the starting place."
"We're about as far as we can go in terms of walk-throughs and calls and communication and all that, but the speed of the game post-snap and what happens once everybody starts moving – we've seen some of that at a slow pace and been able to coach it to a certain degree, but certainly nothing like the way it's really going to happen," said Belichick.
With one more practice scheduled for Sunday, the Pats will then throw the pads on for Monday when things will look a lot more like the training camp we know and love. So far Belichick was pleased with how things have unfolded.
"I think that this is a good plan, I think it's working and we've made progress to this point," said the head coach. "We've had to deal with a number of changes and adjustments, but it's probably going to be that way for quite a while. I think we're used to that."
Before things get too physical, McCourty was just enjoying the chance to be back on the field competing, something that will ratchet up a lot in the coming days.
"This stage is just a lot of fun," said McCourty. "This is when it's most exciting. You're excited to go out there and compete with your guys on your side of the ball, to compete against the guys on the other side. We're not in those dog days of camp yet. Right now it's just a lot of fun to get out there and compete."
Webex Quotes of Note
Jason McCourty on appreciating the chance to be on the football field with his twin brother:
"I think because of when we were able to do it in our career you try to cherish each and every one of those moments. Yesterday, being able to celebrate our 33rd birthday, being able to do that together, with the kids, with the wives, it makes it special. Because at the end of the day, this is my 12th year, this is Dev's 11th year, you don't know how many more training camps you're going to have where you're spending your birthday there. So I think you try to treasure those moments because you know as the days stack it's probably fewer and fewer moments as we're both on the back ends of our career. I do think each and every day we get a chance to come in the building together, whether it's talking trash to the offense together or eating breakfast or lunch, you try to make the most of the moments because you know they're dwindling away little by little."
Bill Belichick on the value of coaching versatility:
"The opportunity to coach something else and see what's going on around it or how those units work together or work against each other, depending on if it's the opposite side of the ball, that can be valuable, too. Ultimately, it's the staff on either side of the ball or special teams meshing together and making sure the communication, the assignments and all that are consistent so the players are getting the same thing and it all fits together. But specifically, each person is responsible for a certain area, but certainly the more that they can know, understand and even be able to coach other positions is valuable, too."