For the next two days, the New England Patriots will practice alongside the Tennessee Titans. The Patriots, of course, are no strangers when it comes to working with other organizations: not only did they hold at least one joint session each summer between 2012 and 2017, the reigning world champions also spent the last week in Detroit to jointly practice with the Lions ahead of the two teams’ preseason opener.
Now, they head down to Tennessee to meet with some familiar faces: from general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel to players such as Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan — all of them spent considerable time with the Patriots before joining the Titans. Of course, the reunion is just a byproduct of the two practices between the clubs. The main focus is on improving with the regular season fast approaching.
“It’s just a great opportunity to go compete,” center David Andrews told reporters on Tuesday when speaking about the upcoming joint work. “It’s going to be a tough week down there. They’re going to be ready to go. They’ve got a good football team. They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re very disciplined, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us. Two days to go compete and then go and play in the game.”
Andrews is no stranger when it comes to participating in joint practices. The former undrafted free agent who has turned into a core member of the Patriots is entering the seventh week of practice cooperation since he entered the NFL in 2015: during his five training camps, he met with the New Orleans Saints (2015 & 2016), Chicago Bears (2016), Jacksonville Jaguars (2017) and Houston Texans (2017) before last week’s sessions in Detroit.
The 27-year-old therefore knows about the benefits of joining another club for practice. “You kind of put it together as a team when you go into these joint practices,” said Andrews. “You’re not playing against your defense anymore. You’re playing against their defense and it’s more of that game rhythm. You come off the field, ‘Alright, here’s what they did that last series.’ So, you get kind of in this game flow a little bit and start really bonding.”
“We’re cheering for our defense when they make plays, they’re cheering for us when we make plays. That doesn’t really happen when we’re out here going against each other. It’s always great to go to really start forming that team and that camaraderie,” continued Andrews. He is not the only Patriot to see joint practices in this light, though, as fellow team captain Devin McCourty — himself a veteran of numerous such sessions — pointed out.
“Anytime we get away, kind of still in that training camp schedule so we all spend a lot of time together, even after meetings being with each other,” said McCourty. “I think the biggest thing when you go on the road like that for a week, it obviously brings a lot from the football side of being on the field, going against another team’s schemes and all that. But, even as a team we build relationships, guys hang out.”
While the social aspect of either traveling for joint practices or holding them at home is a key benefit, the sessions also give the Patriots an opportunity to further work on their fundamentals in a more competitive environment. This holds especially true when considering that the preparation leading up to a preseason game differs from the regular season — something Andrews was quick to point out.
“We don’t really game plan,” he said. “We spend a week getting ready to play a game on Sunday and that’s not really the case in the preseason at times. But I think that challenges you and that’s good because that makes you rely on those base fundamentals and base techniques and schemes of the play. You have to know those to go out there and communicate and do it on the fly sometimes. I think that challenges you and makes you learn it.”
This week, the challenge also includes going against a talented Titans team that blew out New England when the two teams met during the regular season last year: the Patriots, who ultimately rebounded nicely from their loss and went on to win the Super Bowl, were defeated 34-10 in a game that never really felt close. Now, they will get another chance to compete against Mike Vrabel’s team albeit under much different circumstances.
Those circumstances, however, are the reason why the goal for this week is not primarily to come away victoriously on Saturday but to keep improving as a team. Whether it is the club’s chemistry or the focus on playing fundamentally sound football, both are more important than earning a victory in a mid-August preseason contest. And in the end, as McCourty pointed out this week, this experience will ultimately help the players.
“I think it just grows our bond together as a team.”