In a normal NFL summer, the New England Patriots would have played their first preseason game last week. They’d have completed at least one round of joint practices — a near-annual staple for Bill Belichick’s club — and might be preparing for a second.
But this, of course, is no normal summer.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 preseason. Joint practices also are off limits as teams limit their travel and interactions ahead of Week 1. Belichick has compared this new setup to the way college football teams prepare for their seasons. On Monday, the Patriots head coach explained how his team will make up for its lack of preseason competition.
“We’ll have to create those,” Belichick said before the Patriots took the field for their first padded practice of training camp. “As we get to different points in camp, depending on what we’re ready for, what we have installed, what situations we’re ready for, then we’ll have to create those situations, practice them against ourselves or practice them against a simulated opponent.
“When we work against ourselves, we do what we do, but that might not be what everybody else does, so we would have to create that. There are other ways we can work on those situations, but ultimately, we’re going to have to go out there and do them against ourselves.”
Exactly what those situations will look like remains to be seen, but they could consist of a scout-team offense or defense running, say, the Dolphins’ scheme rather than the Patriots’. New England’s season opener against Miami on Sept. 13 will be players’ first opportunity to hit members of another team since Jan. 4 when the Tennessee Titans ended the Patriots’ 2019 campaign in the wild-card round.
Coaches also could introduce more live-tackling drills to prepare players for the speed and physicality of the regular season.
“That was one of the advantages of practicing against another team,” Belichick said. “When we didn’t practice with another team, then it was the same situation. Even though there were preseason games, the fact of the matter is that with a minute to go in the game, the players who are going to be doing that in the regular season generally weren’t on the field anyway for that situation.
“So without the joint practices — which, again, sometimes we’ve had, sometimes we haven’t — then we have to create those situations ourselves and coach them and evaluate them and all things that go with them. That’s where we are this year.”