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Patriots, Saints Joint Practices Serve as Proof Teams Should Do This More Often

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Patriots, Saints Joint Practices Serve as Proof Teams Should Do This More Often
Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE

Ringing endorsements. That's all we've heard all week from the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints regarding the benefits of holding joint practices.

But perhaps the biggest endorsement is that the two teams, having held joint practices back in 2010 leading up to their preseason game, wanted to do it again just three years later. Both sides were thrilled with what was accomplished back then, and they shared similar excitement about the two practices this time around.

"It's always great when you practice against a class franchise like this franchise," said Saints head coach Joe Vitt. "We got a lot of good work done today."

"We got a lot of good, new looks," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "We need them, we'll learn from them, and it will make us a better football team, so it was a good day here." 

We heard those endorsements even before this week, though, with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio sharing his thoughts on the benefits of joint practices just days into camp:

After a certain point in training camp, when you're going against the same people, I don't want to say it gets a little bit monotonous, but you're looking for another challenge or something else. As a team, it sort of rejuvenates you a little bit. There's a certain element of competition, and the speed increases just that much more. Your competitive juices and competitive nature starts to flow.

Perhaps it would have been alright for Caserio to call it monotonous. Saints quarterback Drew Brees used that very same word.

"For us, it's great to be able to kind of break up the monotony of training camp," said Brees, "practicing against yourself, that kind of thing, and to come up and actually have the opportunity to quote-unquote kind of scrimmage against somebody else and really a great opponent."

Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez pointed to another benefit of lining up against a real-life opponent.

"You get tired of practicing against the same players every day, and they start learning your moves," said Hernandez. "So it's good to get some work against somebody that doesn't know much."

Through practicing against the same competition every day, players learn the tendencies of other players.

The change of scenery works both ways. Going up against players who don't know those tendencies can allow a player to utilize his strengths, since the opponent won't be as expectant of those strengths. On the other hand, as Belichick and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer pointed out, nobody knows each other's tendencies, and going up against a new scheme can act as a test for knowledge of the system.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
"I think it makes you stick to your rules," said Hoyer. "After you see the same thing over and over and over again, you kind of know where to go right away. So now, when a new scheme comes in, it kind of really tests what you really know and how well you know the system. So you've got to stick to your rules and take what the defense gives you."

The Saints quarterback shared similar sentiments.

"It's different in scheme, from what our defense does and what we've been going up against for the last two weeks," said Brees, "but as you look at it from personnel matchups and how you scheme them, there's just a different thought that goes into it."

The Patriots have lined up with a mix of defensive fronts as they figure out the groupings that work best for them on that side of the ball, but going up against the Saints added an interesting dynamic. The Saints defense under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo typically rushes four defensive linemen out of the base 4-3 front—a drastic change from the exotic blitz packages by Gregg Williams.

We saw Patriots quarterback Tom Brady struggle a bit on Tuesday during 11-on-11 work, but he flipped a switch on Wednesday as he got his bearings.

That's all well and good, but practicing against one of the best teams in the league helps just that much more. 

"There's not a team that's won more games than the New England Patriots over the last decade," said Brees. "To have the chance to come up here and be around them, watch the way they work, compete against new personnel and a new scheme, I think it's good for both sides."

So, not every team will get to practice against a winning organization like the Patriots and the Saints, but there are plenty of benefits to be had in holding joint practices.

The benefits go beyond simply introducing the players to new looks they haven't seen before. It also helps in terms of evaluation to see the players up against new competition and compare how successful they are against new opponents relative to their success against their own team. 

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For example, the Patriots wide receivers had been abusing the Patriots defensive backs in practice, so it was interesting to watch them against new competition. Unfortunately for both the Patriots and the Saints, New Orleans is dinged up in the secondary, and the Patriots receivers spent most of their time lining up against third- and fourth-string defensive backs.

Likewise, we got to see the Patriots defensive backs go up against the athletic Saints receivers. That was a matchup that was clearly won by the Saints receivers, despite injuries at that position as well. Perhaps going up against Brees had a bit to do with that; the cerebral quarterback completed a high percentage of his passes in both practices.

Either way, the joint practices clearly have their benefits for player evaluation.

"It just gives you a little more first-hand knowledge," said Caserio. "You can see the players practice live as opposed to just evaluating them on a preseason tape. You get to see them in an individual drill, maybe get to look at their movement relative to somebody else at their position on your team, so it gives you an opportunity to look at more players and just see them a little more up close and personal.

Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE
So. Many. Fans.
One more benefit to joint practices is the fan excitement. These practices were some of the most heavily attended back in 2010, and after setting records for attendance three days in a row to open training camp, the Patriots broke the record for single-session attendance at a training camp practice with 14,830 fans on hand.

All of those ringing endorsements, and not one mention of a potential setback. Perhaps it's only a matter of time before more teams begin taking the lead of the Patriots and Saints.

With two class organizations that have each won Super Bowls in the past decade, there's no reason they shouldn't be taking their lead already.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes obtained first-hand.

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