The New England Patriots’ training camp may not officially be over just yet, but the team is already very much preparing to move into a regular season mode this week. Reporters are no longer allowed to watch more than the first few minutes each session, as the purpose of preparation becomes more focused on the upcoming Week 1 matchup against the visiting Miami Dolphins.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pointed that out during a media conference call earlier this week.
“We’re moving into kind of another phase here in terms of the ending of the training camp period and the beginning of the regular season preparation,” he said on Monday. “We’ll kind of transition through that this week, and then next week we’ll be in a full game preparation week for Miami. This will be a little bit of a transition, trying to clean up some loose ends, finish off some things that we need to do, then also continue to work on some of the things that we’ve been doing that need some refinement or a little higher level of execution.
“We’ll continue to do all the things that will be closer to game-type situations, as well as obviously continuing to work on fundamentals and basis. But, we’ve got to move forward so that we’re ready to actually play a game. That’s kind of where we are this week, and then of course at the end of the week, we’ll have to make some decisions relative to the roster, but we’ve still got a few days to try to continue to sort that out.”
Those last few practices before the regular season preparation gets kicked off in full might be crucial for some players near the bottom of the depth chart. Without the benefit of preseason games — all contests were canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic — practice remains the only forum in which younger players can gain experience and depth options can make a name for themselves relative to the 53-man roster or 16-man practice squad.
At the end of the week, of course, the Patriots will have to make those decisions: roster cutdown deadline is on Saturday afternoon. At that point, 27 of the 80 players currently under contract will have to be released.
Cutdown day is essentially the end of training camp, and the beginning of a process the Patriots will already transition into over the course of this week as Belichick pointed out: getting ready for Miami and the start of the regular season.
“By the end of the week, we’ll be into Miami,” he said. “It won’t be jumping from training camp to in-season, but there will be, I’d say, a gradual progression of both practice structure and what we actually do in practice, how those drills or periods get eventually changed from training camp emphasis to specific emphasis for an opponent.
“That will be a four- or five-day period to encompass offense, defense, special teams and all the things that go with those different units — first down, second down, third down, all the different kicking units. It’s not all at once. There will be some things that may relate to Miami and then maybe the next day a little bit more, maybe the next day a little bit more of a regular season practice structure, so it will be a transition period here. It’s not all going to happen in one day, but by the end of the week, we should be in a regular season type of format.”
This transition is nothing new as Belichick also noted. The Patriots usually move away from their camp practice structure in late August or early September, regardless of preseason football taking place or not. That said, he noted that the team would still have some competitive periods to focus on fundamentals and technique, while also competing against each other in lieu of the Dolphins coming to town in not even two weeks.
Along the way, of course, game-specific situational football will also come into focus.
“[We] start to get into specific game-planning or specific situations that aren’t as competitive because we’re trying to prepare for something we’re going to see or trying to prepare for a specific situation that we need to play out — the hands team or kickoff return after a safety or things like that — situational plays that are very specific that really aren’t general training camp plays,” said Belichick.
“They have more application to real game situations and how much time is left, what’s the score and things like that that become more situation specific. That’s generally where I would say that’s headed,” he added. “It’s not just calling the play and running it, but also having the right communication so that you can execute whatever it is you’re trying to do or whatever it is you’re trying to defend that they’re trying to do. So, those are the kind of things that we need to progress forward on here this week.”