The first of three practices between the New England Patriots and the Detroit Lions is in the books. The 150-minute session on Monday was a good first taste of joint work for the reigning world champions, and showed a competitive team in all three phases. With that in mind, let’s focus on some of the stories emerging from Detroit and once more clean out the training camp notebook.
New England is looking good in a competitive environment
The Patriots’ offense had one of its best days of the summer on Monday — which speaks not only for the strength of the club’s own defense but also for the offense’s ability to rise to the occasion in a competitive environment. What stood out in particular was the performance of quarterback Tom Brady: he was accurate and on point with his passes, as he appeared to get into a better rhythm with his new-look receiver corps.
After the session, Brady spoke with the media and like head coach Bill Belichick before him also discussed the value of joint practices in the grand scheme of things. “I like it. It’s a different level of competition,” the 42-year-old told reporters during the short press conference. “Obviously, between the OTAs and the minicamp and training camp, there’s quite a bit of practice against our own guys.”
“We really know our players, what we do schematically, the looks that we present and it’s nice to get some real fresh competition and see where you match up against a team that really beat us up pretty good last year,” continued Brady. “It’s good competition for us. We need it and it’s just another step in the process with the preparation that we need to get ready for when the season starts.”
Yesterday, the Patriots embraced this fresh competition Brady mentioned. The team, especially on offense, cut down on the sloppy play that was prevalent for the last few sessions in Foxboro and appeared to be more focused on properly applying the fundamentals. The results looked good.
The Brady-Meyers connection is evolving quickly
Speaking of Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback to ever grace the gridiron appears to be developing plenty of trust in wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. On Monday, Brady targeted the undrafted rookie a team-high six times during either 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work. Four of the throws were completed, with Meyers again showing his knack for the spectacular reception. The most encouraging development, however, is in the details.
Both Brady and Meyers appear to be on the same page when it comes to reading defenses and reacting accordingly. The Patriots’ offensive system relies on quarterback and receiver to make the same reads, and so far it looks as if the rookie is doing just that. If he can keep this up and further develop his chemistry with Brady, it is hard to see Meyers not make the 53-man roster and play a considerable role on offense this season.
Jake Bailey appears to be pulling away in the punter competition
One of the most intriguing position battles of training camp is the one between punters Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. While the incumbent is coming off a strong season and outstanding Super Bowl performance, fifth-round rookie Bailey is bringing tremendous upside and valuable versatility — he also has experience doing kickoffs, something the Patriots asked him to do in training camp as well — to the table.
Through the early portions of camp, it appears as if the rookie is a step ahead of the veteran. Yesterday was further confirmation of that, as Bailey clearly won the battle when it came to hang-time and to actual distance gained. While his consistency is still a work in progress and could turn into the main argument against keeping him, the potential and high ceiling the 22-year-old possesses cannot be denied.
Derek Rivers vs. Shilique Calhoun will be the battle to watch at the defensive edge
As the Patriots’ roster currently stands, four players on the defensive edge can be considered locks to make the 53-man roster: trade acquisition Michael Bennett, returning veterans Deatrich Wise Jr. and John Simon, and third-round rookie Chase Winovich. Realistically, this leaves only one spot open at the position and it looks like Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun will be the main players competing for it.
While Rivers — now in his third year with the team — has a solid training camp thus far and seen considerable practice reps with the starting unit (lining up both in a three-point stance and a two-point stance), Calhoun has come along well as of late: the first-year Patriot, who was signed as a free agent after the draft, has looked competitive during 1-on-1 drills and also received some action with the top-level defense recently.
The next few sessions and preseason in particular will give us a clearer picture of where the two currently stand, but it looks like a foregone conclusion that only one of the two will make the cut later this month.
Bill Belichick loves the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is known as a man of few words, but that only holds true to a certain degree and when it comes to specific topics. He will not give you long (or any) answers about injuries or player contracts, but will open up when a question touches an issue dear to his heart. Judging by his comments yesterday and the 464 words he used, it appears as if the Pro Football Hall of Fame is just that.
“I actually spent a couple days there because I went over Saturday night for Ty’s [Law] induction,” Belichick said when asked about his experience at the Hall of Fame before traveling to Detroit. “As always, the Hall of Fame was awesome. From David Baker all the way down to all the people we interacted with, which I want to say was practically everybody there — their research people, their archives, the people that showed us around and answered questions. It was a great experience.”
“Because I was there a little longer, I got to see a lot of things maybe that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” continued Belichick who was present for Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony that also saw ex-Patriots cornerback Ty Law enter the NFL’s hallowed halls. “Certainly, it was great to see Ty and all of the people that came to support him, as well as the other guys that were there.”
“Kevin [Mawae] , who was with the Jets when I was there of course, and Gil Brandt, who I’ve had a long relationship with, and Ed Reed, who’s killed us so many times, but we can put a smile on our face now because we don’t have to deal with him on the field,” added Belichick. “So, it was great to see all of those people, and Tony Gonzales as well. That’s another guy that killed us when we didn’t double cover him, which was almost every play we doubled him.”
“It was great. I think our team appreciated it. We saw a lot of the history of the game, the busts and the enshrines and other historical things about the Hall of Fame,” New England’s head coach continued. “I think one of the great things about the Hall of Fame that they pointed out to us multiple times, which I’m not sure I fully understood — but the Hall of Fame really is a Hall of Fame for every NFL player, not just the enshrinees and the ones with the busts.”
“Literally, I could go to 1941, go to 1941 Lions and pull up my dad, and see the team picture, and see an article about him and so forth,” he added. “Their objective, and I’d say they’ve achieved it, is so that every family member, son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, or whoever could actually go there, or the player themselves could actually go there and not just see their name, but see something about the person.”
“Pictures, articles, as well as stats or whatever the case may be, regardless if the player played one year or 20 years in the league,” Belichick noted. “They’ve done a great job preserving the history of the game. When only one percent of their memorabilia and collection is on display, then you realize the enormity of what they have and how great and how special it is. It was quite... to see Red Grange’s shoulder pads, Joe Namath’s cape, and Johnny Unitas’ high-top shoes — it’s just thrilling. It really is, to put it all in one place. It was great.”