Scrimmaging against other teams has real value according to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Speaking to reporters, Belichick summed up the value in one sentence. “No better preparation for a game than working against the team you’re gonna play,” he said.
Wednesday marked the final practice between the Patriots and Saints as both teams prepare for Thursday’s preseason opener. Belichick has been sharing notes and observations with last season’s Super Bowl winner, Sean Payton. Payton and Belichick have commented on how beneficial the joint practices have been to their teams.
Key observations from day 12 include: Belichick’s thoughts on the practices and upcoming game, brief injury scares, and Vollmer’s return.
In his pre-practice press conference, Patriots coach Bill Belichck elaborated on the benefits of practicing against other teams in training camp.
“I thought yesterday’s practice was probably one of the most productive practices that I’ve been part of in my career..”
That being said, Belichick has expressed that the team still has a laundry list of things that need to be worked on. The defensive end, outside linebacker and left guard positions are just a few of the weak spots that training camp has exposed. Practicing against other teams gave Belichick the chance to evaluate the talent his roster holds.
The joint practice was a prime opportunity for plenty of situational work. Having a new opponent on the field, even if it is just on the practice field, brought out a new sense of competitiveness from the Patriots players.
Intensity level is something that tends to fade during the dog days of training camp two-a-days. Rookies and veterans have to fight through exhaustion, boredom and general wear and tear Having the Super Bowl Champions to practice against dramatically improved the energy level of the team and its spectators.
Struggles on the Field
Both the Patriots and Saints experienced a few injury scares today. Each team watched one of their players go down with a possible serious injury during team drills.
Patriots rookie outside linebacker/defensive end Jermaine Cunningham found himself entangled at the line of scrimmage with a Saints player. Cunningham walked off the field on his own although he did require some medical attention to his ankle. Though the injury didn’t appear to be severe, it was a concern considering the condition of the rest of the OLB squad.
Saints veteran cornerback Randall Gay was knocked out of bounds during 11-on-11 drill and stayed on the sidelines for a while. After stretching and walking around to catch his breath, the former Patriot slid right back into team drills.
Before the injury, Gay was the victim of a well timed pass from Brady to Welker, resulting in a New England score..The former Patriot attempted to pressure Welker in the endzone while Brady quickly rolled out of the pocket and hit Welker as he slipped into the open in the back corner.
Murrell On The Mend
Tuesday’s mysterious injury to Marques Murrell turned out to be little more than overheating and cramps (According to reports). The linebacker was back in action on Wednesday, even signing a few autographs at the conclusion of practice.
Vollmer Returns to Full Action
Second year left tackle Sebastian Vollmer was limited during Tuesday’s practice. In his place, veteran Mark LeVoir was given a chance to line up with the top offensive unit. Vollmer was in full pads but on the sidelines on Tuesday.
This wasn’t the case for the large German tackle on Wednesday. Vollmer was pressed back into full action during offensive line drills. He’s shown continued improvement from his stellar rookie year. Vollmer looks ready to become a starter this upcoming season if the opportunity arises.
Vollmer started in eight games last season and was the starting right tackle during the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Kisha’s Key Point: What to Look for in Patriots’ Preseason Game
For those who venture out to Gillette Stadium for the preseason games, you probably already know what to expect. For those who haven’t been there before, you’ll get some of the atmosphere of the regular season, but with a few limitations. One of these differences is the quick exit Patriots starters will make from the field. Preseason games are an opportunity for teams to try out the young players and new faces, so starters tend to get in and get out quickly.
The preseason isn’t just a time for newly signed free agents, Patriots’ rookies must take advantage of any playtime they get. Last year, Julian Edelman was able to show his flexibility as a kick returner and receiver during the a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the stage he needed to prove that being drafted wasn’t a mistake.
Fans should watch for players that are reportedly “on the bubble. Kyle Arrington, Sam Aiken, Terrence Wheatley, Marques Murrell and Torry Holt fit that category. A few good (or bad) plays could make or break their chances to land a spot on the final roster.
Arrington, a Hofstra product, has shown more quickness and strength in camp than he did last season. His likely landing spot would be at gunner during kickoff coverage.
Terrence Wheatley is another defensive back who has experienced a good training camp so far. Wheatley even managed to make a few impressive plays against the Saints’ receivers to improve his chances.
Wide receiver Sam Aiken has been a solid special teams’ player during his career. With plenty of competition at wideout, Aiken needs show progress as receiver to secure his spot.
Marques Murrell needs to find a role with the Patriots and they seem to need him just for depth. Already getting the nod to line up with the starting group as an outside linebacker, Murrell just needs to have decent showing on Thursday to be a contender for the spot in the rotation.
The final bubble player in my opinion is veteran wide receiver Torry Holt. Without question, his leadership and guidance on the team is crucial. Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Brandon Tate and others have spoken volumes of Holt’s leadership. But is that enough? Not typically for the Patriots. Holt is entering his 13th season in the NFL and although he has had a great showing at camp, the wealth of talent in the receiving corps is hard to ignore.
Unless these players bring something a little extra to the game on Thursday against the Saints, then their time spent on the Patriots official roster could be limited.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check in all camp long for regular updates by Kisha from Foxboro