Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Areas of intrigue at joint practice
By Field Yates
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd has never practiced against another team during training camp throughout the first nine years of his NFL career, but that is set to change when the Patriots and Saints hit the field together on Tuesday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
On Monday, the day before his first joint practice as an NFL player, Lloyd expressed enthusiasm about going against opponents other than his own teammates.
"I think it's good to go against another team, guys who aren't familiar with your patterns and alignments and releases," he said. "The competition obviously is fun, it's a fun part of practicing, but to go against another team definitely ramps it up a little bit."
We're not yet sure what pace and tempo the two teams will practice at on Tuesday (Wednesday's joint session will probably be closer to a walkthrough), but there's a solid chance we'll see a number of individual matchups, during both drills and 11-on-11 team work.
With that in mind, here is a sampling of the matchups we'll be keeping a close eye on:
1. Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty vs. Saints wide receiver Marques Colston. McCourty has had an up-and-down camp thus far, and he'll be put to the test if he faces off against Colston, who New Orleans handed big money to this offseason on a new five-year deal. Colston often operates in the slot in New Orleans' offense, but we could see these two square off in a number of situations. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Colston is an imposing target, and good practice for McCourty (or any of the Patriots defensive backs) as the team will face a number of bigger receivers early on in the season.
2.Patriots linebackers vs. Saints running back Darren Sproles. We'll lump the Patriots linebackers as a whole into this matchup, as it's unclear which will be available for practice (Brandon Spikes sat out Monday's session). Most specifically, however, we'll have our eyes on both Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower, who each may draw Sproles in a coverage match-up. Although slight in stature, Sproles is a terror to cover in open space. Watching Mayo and/or Hightower oppose Sproles will present a unique contrast in skill sets.
3. Patriots offensive tackles vs. Saints defensive ends. With the Patriots battling injury issues along the offensive front, specifically the tackle position, we'll keep our eyes on how the team is able to defend New Orleans' rushers. This is an opportunity for a player in the periphery of the Patriots' tackle discussion -- perhaps Dustin Waldron or Nick McDonald -- to emerge and show themselves capable to fill-in if needed.
4. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones vs. Saints tackles Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief. Jones has already impressed in the early portion of training camp, and has the chance to continue to do so against a pair of powerful Saints tackles. Should the teams participate in a 1-on-1 drill with the offensive and defensive linemen, expects plenty of eyes to be on Jones.
5. Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd vs. Saints cornerbacks. Lloyd's comments above suggest he's excited about the opportunity to work against a new opponent other than his own teammates, and after the camp start he's had, we'll be interested to see how the Saints defensive backs are able to fare against him.