Commentary

Patriots, sinners and Saints

Belichick's troops can stop scuffling, get out some bad blood against opponents

Updated: August 7, 2012, 9:38 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- And really, there is no catch.

Two of the game's best quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, will be there. They play for two of the NFL's best franchises, perennial Super Bowl contenders. Admission is free. So is parking. The weather forecast looks promising.

Excuse me, is this football heaven?

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Barry Chin/Getty ImagesTom Brady is always ready for some football, though he won't get hit before the Patriots-Saints preseason game Thursday.

The New England Patriots host the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium for joint practices on Tuesday (1:30 p.m. ET) and Wednesday (10 a.m.), an intimate setting where fans are right on top of the action. The Patriots, save for a slow day at the gate Monday, have been drawing anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 fans daily since training camp opened July 26, and this could blow those numbers out of the water.

Save all the Spygate and Bountygate jokes, please. We're not going there, in part because of the view they were two overblown stories, but more so because this is a chance to appreciate a rare football opportunity: two loaded teams sharing the same field, challenging each other, raising the level of competition.

They did it in 2010, right here, and Bill Belichick said it was one of the best practices he'd been a part of in his entire career. So why not do it again in advance of the teams' preseason opener on Thursday?

For those who have been regulars at Patriots training camp this year, there have been 10 practices (seven full pads, three in shells/light shoulder pads), and it's clear players need a change of pace.

On Wednesday, at their in-stadium practice, there was a large scuffle. Then on Friday, there were two more, which had a peeved Belichick sending the entire team on three laps around the field -- goal post to goal post.

Players were uncharacteristically chippy and clearly tired of hitting each other. Now they are looking forward to seeing fresh faces on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.

"We get an opportunity to go against someone else after hitting up on each other for a little while now. It will give us a chance to see some new looks and some different guys out there," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "I think they're probably coming in with the same attitude -- a chance to compete and go against different players."

Added backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, "I'm really looking forward to playing other people besides Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and all those guys. It will be good to get some fresh faces in there, and obviously some different schemes. I think that will really test where we're at."

The tests will be numerous, starting with a revamped defense that will attempt to slow Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense. Brees (4-of-5, 41 yards) helped direct a 77-yard touchdown drive in his one series in Sunday night's Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, the Saints looking as lethal as ever.

"It's going against different receivers, a different offensive look. It's good just to see something different," McCourty said. "Going against [our] offense, we kind of get to know them and know some things, and you have some idea of what's going to happen. Now we'll get a new look and we really have to focus on being competitive."

Belichick previously said one of the main purposes of the joint practices is to create game-like situations, especially those at the end of the fourth quarter. The Patriots regularly do that in practice, but the opportunity to be tested against a different defense -- one that isn't playing "vanilla" -- adds a new wrinkle.

"So many games are decided at the end. In a preseason game, if you get those situations, it's usually not with the guys that will be doing it in the regular season, except for the field-goal kicker," Belichick said on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week. "It gives you an opportunity to set up those situational things."

Hoyer stressed how the joint practices challenge quarterbacks to read a defense they might not be as familiar with as their own.

"Going into it, you're not going to know their plan, the coverages they're playing, which is really good for a quarterback because as much as you scout teams for games, there is no rule that says they have to play what they played the previous game," he said. "For us, it's go out there with our reads and our progressions and react to what they give us. It's really good."

From an evaluation standpoint, director of player personnel Nick Caserio added that the joint practices are a good measuring stick to gauge the teams' progress.

"It's exciting for all of us -- players, coaches, personnel staff -- because you kind of see a little bit of everything," he said.

So here we go. If paying full-price for a preseason game is a rip-off, this is at the other end of the football field, a truly great value.

The first football is in the air at 1:30 p.m. Be there.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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