The New England Patriots’ joint practices with the Las Vegas Raiders are in the books. The two teams shared the practice fields at Raiders Headquarters in Henderson, NV, for the second and final time on Wednesday — producing yet another competitive session that can be recapped here.
For everything else that happened, let’s clean out the notebook.
Patriots players are big fan of joint practices. The Patriots are no strangers to joint practices, with them becoming annual occurrences under Bill Belichick. The team’s head coach is not the only person who likes joining forces with other teams, though: quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver Nelson Agholor spoke on Wednesday about how they too enjoy those opportunities.
“I love the joint practices,” Jones said after practice. “I think it’s really good work. Especially here, get in the heat, go against a team with a lot of familiar players and really good coaches. Just compete, play football, and not worry about anything else. Just come out, and it’s fun. They’re always fun, but this one was a lot of fun just having some familiar faces out there.”
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor echoed those remarks.
“I do enjoy them because you get to see some guys that you’re not familiar with, and they do different techniques,” he said. “Sudden change and your reactionary skills come in, because they can do a different technique and you just have to react.”
The Patriots held two set of joint sessions this summer. They held two spirited sessions with the Carolina Panthers in Foxborough last week before traveling to Las Vegas on Sunday to meet up with the Raiders for two days plus the preseason final on Friday.
Hunter Henry thinks trust needs to be earned on a daily basis. Training camp is not just for finding the right 53 players to head into the season with, but most importantly for building team chemistry and the trust between its members. According to tight tend Hunter Henry, the Patriots’ pass catchers and their quarterback have that bond in place — but that it still needs to be worked on every day.
“I think Mac has full trust in a lot of us, especially coming off last year,” Henry said. “I don’t think it will be much of a trust thing, but that trust continues to build. You can catch as many balls as you want, have as many plays, but every time you go out on the field it’s continual consistency, showing up. It never stops and you have to continue to go out every single day and earn that trust.”
The veteran tight end was one of Mac Jones’ favorite targets last year, finishing the season as New England’s leader in touchdown receptions. He projects to play a prominent role in the team’s offense yet again in 2022 — and training camp will serve as a basis for that.
Davon Godchaux values the team-bonding aspect of traveling to Las Vegas. Following Wednesday’s practice, the Patriots took a field trip to UFC headquarters in Las Vegas. That trip was another example for what joint practices in a different city also are: an opportunity for the team to do some bonding.
Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux is a fan of that aspect of this week’s journey to Nevada.
“Team bonding is always good,” he said. “Anytime you get a chance to sit around the hotel, outside on your break time, bond with your teammates, get to know them a bit more, they get to know you a bit more is always great. We always want to take advantage of those things.”
The Patriots want to feed off each other’s energy. As opposed to Tuesday’s practice, when they struggled before the final two-minute drills, the Patriots looked better on Wednesday. As a result, the energy and enthusiasm was visibly improved as well.
“You have to have fun playing the game,” Hunter Henry said following Wednesday’s practice. “Sometimes we get caught up in the process, so it’s always good to celebrate and enjoy what you’re doing. I think it brings the juice to everybody else; it brings the juice to the defense, special teams and everybody can feed off that for the rest of the day.”
Henry was right in the middle of this process on Wednesday, with his touchdown to cap the final two-minute drill of the day opening the celebratory floodgates: teammates stormed the field after the reception, with the weight of two straight days of full-contact work seemingly lifted off their shoulders.
According to Nelson Agholor, that was just another example of the team showing the bond it has developed.
“We have a lot of respect and love for each other. We work hard and we celebrate each other’s victories,” Agholor said. “I think we’re in a good place where we’re just growing and getting better.”
Nelson Agholor credits Mac Jones for helping him look ‘almost like a quarterback.’ During last week’s joint practices with the Panthers, Mac Jones heaped considerable praise on Nelson Agholor.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a receiver who understands football as well as he does in terms of just general knowledge,” he said. “He’s almost like a quarterback out there. We put in a lot of work together in the offseason. He was at all the throwing sessions. That’s what we are trying to grow from.”
On Wednesday, Agholor was asked his thoughts on Jones’ statements. He did not hesitate to praise the sophomore quarterback himself, and what he has meant to the bond the two have developed since arriving in New England last offseason.
“That’s an amazing compliment by him. But, honestly, he is a great quarterback and a great leader,” Agholor said. “The level of communication we have is why I continue to have the right questions. He opens up that line of communication.
“We’re just trying to get better. ... Just with time. With time and trying to iron out some details, and having a year of film to see what happened a year ago; to study, to talk about the looks we saw; some of the things we missed and some of the things we did well.”
The Jones-Agholor connection did have its ups and downs in 2021, with the quarterback and wide receiver oftentimes not on the same page. This year’s training camp, meanwhile, saw the connection evolve: at times, Agholor was Jones’ most consistent target and a player worthy of an active role in the New England offense.
A week in Nevada is good preparation for what’s to come. Throughout the week in Las Vegas — which saw the Patriots conduct one individual practice plus two joint sessions — the temperature regularly topped the 100-degree mark. While those conditions are a challenge, especially compared to those in Massachusetts, they also are a good preparation for the team.
Week 1 of the regular season, after all, will see a trip to Florida to play the Miami Dolphins on the road. All week Patriots players have therefore spoken about the benefits of practicing in hot conditions, with defensive tackle Davon Godchaux the latest to join that chorus on Wednesday.
“Being from Louisiana, I’m kind of used to this heat,” he said. “But it’s always good to get back into the heat and compete. It’s going to prepare everybody on the team. Being out here for three days, competing in the heat it’s going to prepare us for September 11.”
Training camp is over. The Patriots are holding a walkthrough session on Thursday before their preseason finale versus the Raiders on Friday night. They will then prepare for roster cutdowns before turning the page toward the regular season and said game in Miami.
The process is moving along, which also means that we can now close the book on training camp as well: Wednesday’s joint practice was the final major session of the summer.
“To me, camp is officially over,” Davon Godchaux said. “Last day, last really competitive practice against Vegas. Get to go out there Friday and compete again, and next week compete at practice. But pretty much it’s over for me.”
The Patriots had most of their current 80-man roster present for the session. By next Tuesday, they will have to trim their team down to 53 players.