After a victory, the New England Patriots award “Practice Players of the Week” distinctions to members of the scout team that best helped the team prepare for their opponent. It’s a unique honor that head coach Bill Belichick uses to reinforce the importance and value of playing at a high level during practice.
The award is also great way to recognize players on the roster that might not get the same recognition on Sunday.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” six-time practice player of the week and defensive lineman Geneo Grissom said. “My job is to make sure those guys at practice I give a great look, that I can make it as realistic as I can, so that way on Sunday those guys have already seen it.”
Grissom carved out a role on the team for his value on both defense and special teams, but also as a great practice player. He ranked second on the team in practice player of the week awards in 2016 with seven distinctions and understands that his successes in practice give him an opportunity to stick with the team.
“If you don’t bring your A-game [in practice], you’re not going to be there long,” Grissom said. “You have to bring your best every day.”
Grissom is tied with rookie defensive backs David Jones and Damarius Travis for the most practice player awards this season (week 5 data is unavailable and the team did not respond to a request for more information), and the rookie Jones is taking these practice opportunities as a chance to set himself up for success in 2018.
“[The award] means a lot,” Jones said. “I work hard for it, I’ll continue to work until hopefully I’ll get my shot, get my named called, and we’ll take it from there.”
Patriots Practice Player of the Week Leaderboard
- 6 awards: DL Geneo Grissom, DB Damarius Travis, DB David Jones
- 4: WR Cody Hollister, CB Ryan Lewis, WR Riley McCarron
- 3: DL Adam Butler, OL Ted Karras, RB Rex Burkhead, DB Jomal Wiltz, QB Brian Hoyer, RB Mike Gillislee
- 2: TE Jacob Holister, LB Trevor Reilly, TE Dwayne Allen, OL Cole Croston, RB Brandon Bolden, RB James White, RB Dion Lewis, WR Bernard Reedy, TE Will Tye
- 1: 17 players earned the award once in 2017
While practice player awards are great, they don’t guarantee a spot on the team in the following year. Running back D.J. Foster racked up 9 practice player awards during the 2016 regular season to lead the team, wide receiver DeAndrew White added five of his own, and tight end Matt Lengel had four.
Rookie defensive back Ryan Lewis, a four-time practice player winner, agreed with Jones that the scout team allows him to develop with a focus on landing a larger role in 2018.
“When you get to practice against one of the highest powered offenses in the NFL, you got to take advantage of that,” Lewis said. “It’s just good to get some experience, get ready for next year, and get that edge. I think [I’ve developed] in all areas. It’s given me a chance to work on different techniques, just go out there and play without the pressure of the actual game, so it just gives me a chance to polish my skills.”
The Patriots are unique in how they publicize the efforts of their practice players, with linebacker Trevor Reilly noting that he didn’t see the award in his stints with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
As part of their preparation with the scout team, these practice players are asked to emulate certain star players on the other team and to imitate their style of play in order to give the starters the best possible look in practice at what they will be seeing on Sunday.
“I get to work on my game, work on craft, kind of display what they do out on the field, it’s kind of fun doing that,” Jones said about emulating players.
Some assignments are more intriguing that others and the players all had their favorite jobs to play out in practice.
“Jalen Ramsey,” Lewis said about his favorite player to emulate. “It’s a little bit of an honor. He’s a great corner right there, so they just gave me his jersey. I liked it. A little more physical, kind of change up your style of play, change up how you get into the receivers, make it hard for them.”
“When we played Miami, I was Lawrence Timmons, who I played with in Miami,” Reilly said. “That was fun because I know how Lawrence plays so I was able to give them a pretty realistic look.
“It was fun being J.J. Watt this year, because he kind of does whatever he wants to do on the field,” Grissom said. “He doesn’t really have a lot of rules.”
Geneo Grissom, Trevor Reilly, and Adam Butler should serve as the Eagles ferocious defensive front in practice, while Damarius Travis could be star defensive back Malcolm Jenkins. Mike Gillislee will be asked to practice like the Eagles running backs and Jacob Hollister, Cody Hollister, and Riley McCarron will likely be the Eagles receivers and tight end Zach Ertz.
And while Butler might be the only player listed to also play considerable snaps on offense or defense come Sunday, the recognition of work done in practice isn’t lost on the players.
“It means that all the little things that you do when you don’t think anyone is watching, it means they’re watching,” Reilly said. “I’ve been on teams where you have great practices and nobody cares. But here, they care about it and it feels good to see some recognition every once in a while when you’re on the lowly practice squad.”