FOXBORO, Mass. — Every August, when NFL teams gear up for their first preseason games, players in every locker room uniformly chant one refrain. Bottom line: They're just excited to hit someone else for a change.
That will be a little different in New England this year. The Patriots are mixing it up and holding joint practice sessions with the Saints and Falcons, and the change of pace should ignite a little extra enthusiasm into the oft-monotonous training camp practices.
"Hopefully, it changes the outlook of what this year means to us as a football team," Patriots running back Kevin Faulk said. "Hopefully, guys see how serious Coach [Bill Belichick] is, [and] the guys that have been around here a long time, about this season."
About two weeks into training camp, the Super Bowl champion Saints will visit Gillette Stadium for an Aug. 10 practice, which will help the teams prepare for their preseason opener two days later in Foxboro. The following week, the Patriots will head to the Falcons' facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., for an Aug. 17 session that precedes their Aug. 19 exhibition at the Georgia Dome.
Belichick's friendship with Saints head coach Sean Payton and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff probably paved the way for initial discussions.
"It just worked out that way," Belichick said. "Talking to Sean and [Falcons head coach] Mike [Smith], we just felt it would work out. We talked a little bit about the logistics and how it could benefit us and, of course, them. We just felt like the timing, scheduling and all that worked out. Certainly, playing on [Thursday] every week [of the preseason] is helpful, as opposed to short weeks, and long weeks and that kind of thing. This kind of gives us a chance to get on a regular schedule."
The Patriots haven’t held a joint practice since 2001, when they hosted the Giants at Bryant College. Faulk is one of five Patriots — including quarterback Tom Brady, left tackle Matt Light, right guard Stephen Neal and wide receiver David Patten — who was on the roster for those sessions.
"Very intense," Faulk remembered. "Some guys don’t like some guys. They get into it. From my understanding, that’s something that always happened because you're hot, you're tired, you've been practicing all day, and you're practicing against [a team] that you really haven’t been practicing against."
Aside from an energy boost, joint sessions will help the Patriots work against other systems, and it will give them additional chances to see tangible progress in camp. The players and coaching staff could also benefit by seeing how another team runs its operation at that point in the year.
On the negative side, fights seem to be a regular occurrence during these sessions, and the intensity level might be dangerously high for a preseason practice, which could increase the chance of injury. Belichick also noted these sessions can slow down his teaching installation because there are two teams practicing. Basically, the Pats head coach can't stop practice to emphasize one point with his team because it's a waste of time for the other squad on the field.
Even still, Belichick said the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
"I'm excited for training camp," Belichick said. "We've got a long way to go, and [the joint practices] will be a big part of it. We'll have plenty of practices out there by ourselves and a lot of opportunities to get work done. Hopefully, we'll be productive in this time, whether it will be preseason games or practices against our opponents, so we'll be able to use those productively as well."