Commentary

Patriots, Saints spice up practice

Updated: August 11, 2010, 8:29 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The on-field execution could have been sharper, but when summing up what unfolded in joint practices between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints on Tuesday, it was a hit.

Good times all around.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonAlthough play wasn't always sharp, the joint practice of the Patriots and Saints gave rookie Rob Gronkowski a taste of going against the enemy.

The Patriots reported that 16,455 spectators came through the turnstiles at Gillette Stadium, and that 80 members of the media were credentialed to cover the practices. Those are some impressive numbers for a midweek session at this point in training camp.

The two workouts were the Patriots' 20th and 21st since veterans reported to town July 28. In past years, this has been the time when crowds often dwindle and players would be battling through the dog days of training camp. But this was a different twist.

Where else would Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Saints coach Sean Payton sit down together for an interview? Where else could Belichick and Payton share laughs with rocker Jon Bon Jovi?

It was right here at Gillette, marking the first time another club has been on site for joint practices. The last time Belichick tried such an arrangement was in 2001, when the New York Giants trained at Bryant College with the Patriots.

Coaches and players gave the joint practices a big thumbs-up. There were smiles all around.

"[The] morning practice went really well. In visiting with Bill afterward, I thought everything went very smooth," said Payton, who was an assistant on the Giants staff that practiced against the Patriots in 2001. "I thought the teams got a lot out of it. Coming here to work with a team like the Patriots certainly benefits both teams involved."

"It's neat scrimmaging against them just because of the simple fact of what they accomplished last year as a football team and an organization," Patriots running back Kevin Faulk said of the Saints, which won their first Super Bowl title last season. "As far as the competition level, they are the best in the business right now."

Unlike the Patriots, the Saints are no strangers to joint practices. They had them last year with the Houston Texans and there was an on-field fight. There was nothing close to a skirmish Tuesday, as the teams didn't have live tackling, but they did work at a quick tempo. Players were warned beforehand.

"I think Bill and Sean just got together and said, 'If there is any fighting, we're going to toss you,'" former Patriots fullback and current Saint Heath Evans said. "It is game-like rules, with two professional teams that know how to practice like professionals."

If there was one visual that stood out from the field, it was during the afternoon as the teams worked in 11-on-11 drills, with Belichick and Payton standing behind the quarterback before each snap. Belichick would yell out the situation he wanted the teams to practice, and the players would respond accordingly.

It is the type of thing that Belichick does daily in training camp, but to see the Saints as part of the "situational football" drills was unique. Belichick is known as a secretive guy, someone who protects any competitive advantage, so to tear down the curtain and allow the Saints back stage was an outside-the-hash-marks move for him.

That was another aspect that made Tuesday a neat experience, as a smattering of black Saints jerseys were easily spotted in the crowd among Patriots jerseys.

After the practice, Saints players talked about how nice it was to escape the humidity of New Orleans. It might have been hot and humid on Tuesday, but it's nothing like what Saints players usually face, so the "northern air" was welcoming.

"I forgot how it was to come to training camp and have a cool breeze and it's not 120 degrees," said cornerback Randall Gay, who played for the Patriots from 2004-07. "As soon as you walk out to stretch, your pants are usually soaking wet."

Payton signed autographs for Patriots fans after the morning practice, calling them "great football fans" who "appreciate good football."

Truth be told, the teams didn't play consistently good football on Tuesday. It was sloppy at times.

But overall, no one was complaining. These joint practices were a smashing success.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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