FOXBORO – The Patriots turned their Sunday practice into an intrasquad. It was the second straight practice spent scrimmaging and it’s the first time I can recall them having done that.
The benefits of that as opposed to drilling, drilling, drilling? Obviously, it gets players into more game-situations and able to react on the fly. And it may be an indicator of either the team employing new training methods, the players being a bit ahead of the curve in instillation or – perhaps – a little of both.
Bill Belichick said seeing the flow of the game and how things are fitting together is good for everyone.
“The big part of football is being able to change,” he began. “The situation changes every play. It goes from first-down, to second-down, to third-down, the ball moves, you go from offense to defense, to special teams. You don’t go out there and punt six punts in a row like you do in practice. You punt it once and then maybe the next thing you do is a kickoff return, so I don’t know. It’s doing things like that. It’s getting players to understand the situation and then apply the call and the technique for that given situation.”
The technique portion of the program comes in the one-ones and the half-speed drills during when schemes are installed. These scrimmages show whether players are able to bring what they learned into game situations.
“You want to carry those techniques into the game situation,” he explained. “A lot of times that doesn’t happen because players don’t remember to use the techniques that they’ve worked on. They don’t know when to apply it or they forget to apply it and they kind of lose track of it and that type of thing. This is football. It’s as close as we can get to it. The drill work is good. The repetition is good. That’s how you build your fundamentals. That’s how you build your execution, but at some point you’ve got to play like we’re playing and that’s good, too.”
The sidelines also benefit.
“It’s good for the coaches; handling all the substitutions, making adjustments on the sideline, seeing the game on the down and distance basis, seeing it live as opposed to making corrections on film,” Belichick added. “Not that we don’t coach on the field, but when you don’t know when it’s coming, when the down and distance changes, we need work on that, too, so it’s good for all of us. During the offseason and minicamps, Belichick often reiterates that it’s not evaluation time. It’s learning time. Even if the first few days of camp are a bit of a bridge to that learning period, by now – nine practices in – evaluations are being made.
“Most of the installation we’ve put in we’ve already covered in the spring. It’s not new installation (right now),” he said. “The execution of it in pads is obviously new, but we’re getting into the numbers on that now. We’re playing against an opponent on two practices and then we have a game Thursday night. It’s time to start evaluating. We can’t keep pushing it back. At some point we’ve got to make some decisions and see where things are. I think we’ve given everybody a pretty good chance to learn what to do, to have an opportunity to rep it. Now we’re getting into some competitive situations with us, but then against these other teams there will be not just the game but other practice opportunities as well to evaluate. Those will all be valuable. We’ll just see how it goes.”
In other words, if players don’t have it down by now, the clock is ticking on them. And this week is big for them.
Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran