Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- We know the Patriots like to participate in joint practices. They begin their two-day joint session with the Saints on Tuesday, and next week they'll practice with the Bears on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

But why? Breaking up training camp monotony for players who are tired of whaling on their teammates is a plus. Working against a different club also gives players and coaches an opportunity to react to a different scheme for the first time during training camp. 

There's yet another practical benefit to practicing against a new team, Bill Belichick told Sirius XM NFL Radio's "Movin' the Chains" show at the end of last month.

"For us, it just helps us see different schemes and different players and different matchups. That’s always beneficial. I think the other thing that’s helpful is that it kind of cuts down on your injury risk," he said. "When you go against another team, you only have 11 guys out there instead of 22."

Soon after falling to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, Belichick explained that his staff evaluates injury information every year. They look at the nature of the injuries their players sustained, when they were sustained, and if there might be some vulnerability in a particular area of the body for a given player. 

"Try to stay ahead of it," Belichick said at the time. Having joint practices is one simple way to do that. Cut down on the reps players see, cut down on the opportunities they have to get injured.

 

"There seems to be some opinion about getting rid of preseason and going to two games, three games and all that," Belichick told "Movin' the Chains." "But really, with our scrimmages, it’s more like having five or six [preseason games] because we’re able to practice at a good tempo.

"We’ve had great cooperation with the Saints, and other teams we’ve worked with through the years -- Tampa Bay and so forth -- where you get good reps with your front-line players who aren’t going to play that much in the preseason but they can get a lot of reps in practice because you can control the tempo."

The Patriots have worked on plenty of situational football over the last few practices. They played two scrimmages as though they were games, working on first through fourth-down scenarios. They've practiced free kicks following safeties, and they've worked their "hands team" in the event they see an onside kick. They've repped getting the field goal unit on the field quickly without a timeout, and they've run their two-minute offense -- something that almost never comes up for a group of first-team players who are off the field by the end of the first quarters of preseason games. 

“What you never see with your first group in preseason is two-minute," Belichick told "Movin' the Chains." "You’re not going to see it at the end of the game, and if you see it at the half, it’s usually pretty vanilla. Usually a lot of teams -- and we’ve done this in the past, too -- we go two-minute in the middle of the first quarter just to go out there and run it. But you’re not working against the clock, you’re just trying to play at a fast pace and get the plays called and all that.

"The situational work with those teams is a good opportunity to go through those end-of-the-game plays, those special-teams-situation plays that might only come up once a year. But it’s good to kind of see how the other team is going to line up on that.

"Usually when you line up against yourself, you only know what you’d do. You get to see another option or two on the onside kick, or kickoff after a safety, plays like that which are really situational."

The Saints have been particularly good about cooperating during joint practices thanks to a willingness to work on those types of situations. That's part of the reason the Patriots have been eager to work with coach Sean Payton's club over the years. They've met for joint work in 2010, 2012 and 2015. 

 

"Somebody you can work with, that’s the number one thing. That’s above all else," Belichick said recently when asked what he looks for in a joint-practice opponent. "We have a great relationship with the Saints, with Sean and his staff, the organization. It’s always worked out well the times we’ve done it with them, so if we have an opportunity to do it with them we try to take advantage of it. It’s been really good. They’re great to work with."

While situational work will be a focus when practice starts on Tuesday, the Patriots will be doing plenty of evaluation this week. They'll evaluate the Saints, combing over their roster for talent that they may be able to acquire down the road, but they'll evaulate their own players as well. 

It's time to start identifying the cream of their 90-man roster, Belichick explained on Sunday. 

"We’re playing against an opponent on two practices and then we have a game Thursday night. It’s time to start evaluating," he said. "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."