The intensity on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium will be cranked up quite a bit on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Carolina Panthers will visit to host a pair of joint training camp sessions with the New England Patriots.
For the Patriots, going up against another opponent will be a welcome change. Not only has the team spent virtually all summer beating up on each other, it also has had only limited opportunities to wear full pads.
Including last week’s preseason opener versus the New York Giants, the Patriots wore full padding just seven times since the start of camp in late July. The Panthers’ visit will provide New England with an opportunity to put on pads thrice in a four-day span and to gradually increase the intensity compared to the rest of summer so far.
Obviously, though, the value of joint practices extends beyond the setup itself. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick went deeper into the matter during his pre-practice press conference on Monday morning.
“We’ve been working against each other for a long time, so new individual matchups, schemes are different,” he said. “We’ll see some different Xs and Os, but also maybe techniques on the way guys pass-rush or route-run or things like that. And, I would say, less predictability of practice. We kind of know what’s on the other side of the ball and what we can and can’t do. Some things we aren’t going to see from the opposite side of the ball.
“With a new team, everything’s kind of new, so it keeps you on your toes and forces more communication and more awareness, and we need that.”
Offensive line coach Matt Patricia echoed Belichick’s remarks.
“Great play starts with great fundamentals, and this will be a good opportunity for us to see our fundamentals and our techniques against maybe a little bit of a different style of play,” he said. “We go against each other for so long, and I think that’s one of the things about the joint practices — since we started incorporating those a long time ago — that’s been great.
“You get to the point in camp where, honestly, guys are probably tired of hitting each other after a while and they understand different calls and line of scrimmage things and things like that. But now we can actually go against a different opponent.”
The Patriots are no strangers to joint practices. After having to cancel their planned meeting with the Detroit Lions in 2020 due to Covid-19, they joint-practiced twice last year: New England traveled to Philadelphia and later hosted the New York Giants.
During those sessions, Mac Jones laid the foundation for winning the camp competition at quarterback. In general, as was pointed out by Patricia, those sessions will be another tool for the the team to evaluate itself.
“The competition’s great, and then we can also take a look at our fundamentals from that standpoint. That will be a big evaluation for us this week,” he said.
Offensive tackle Trent Brown also views the upcoming joint sessions as an opportunity for the team to do some self-scouting.
“The competition level, I think, will go up. It has to, or you’ll get your ass beat out here,” he said after Monday’s practice — one that was held in shells and at reduced speed.
“I think this will be our first test. … Tomorrow will be our first big test. Game week, Week 1 is three weeks away. Tomorrow will be a nice gauge to see where we are and see what we need to do before Week 1.”
Center David Andrews added that the joint sessions would be a “great learning experience” for the team. He also pointed out the obvious: it will be a welcome break for players who beat up on each other for much of the summer.
With the exception of last Thursday’s contest against the Giants, the Patriots have not had any contact with an opposing club since January. That waiting period is even longer for the team’s starters, who did not take the field during the exhibition contest versus New York.
“It’s a welcome break to some extent, if that makes sense,” Andrews said. “You kind of come together as a team. You’re no longer going against your defense, you’re no longer doing 1-on-1s against your guys. It’s really the Patriots versus the Panthers. And so, that’s what it’ll be. It’s great competition.”
Kendrick Bourne, another starter who spent last week’s preseason opener on the sidelines, shared Andrews’ perspective.
“I definitely enjoy them,” the wide receiver said. “Going against somebody else. Getting a feel, getting ready for the season. Just good to go against somebody else. Playing against your own teammates, it gets kind of old. It’s exciting to go against somebody else, see where you’re at.”
The Patriots are using joint sessions as another step on the ladder toward the regular season — one that has its benefits compared to preseason games. Belichick was asked about those on Monday, and he agreed that “in some respects” a team is able to get more out of practicing with another team rather than going up against it in a game setting.
“The games have a lot of value too because it’s a game, and it’s structured differently, but there’s certainly a lot to be gained in practice,” he said. “They’re both really important.”
New England will get a chance to perform in both setups this week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the team will host the Panthers on the practice fields. On Friday, preseason game No. 2 will be played.