The New England Patriots started day-1 of their three-day joint practices with the upgraded Philadelphia Eagles under the leadership of new head coach Chip Kelly in preparation for the first preseason game on Friday. Much of the attention has been directed towards the Patriots brand new core of wide receivers and who will be Tom Brady’s main target.
Our rookie receivers continue to make a steady progress as Kenbrell Thompkins being the most surprising revelation in camp with his speed, precise routes and good hands. Aaron Dobson continues to impress, as Boston Globe Ben Volin highlighted Dobson’s leaping catch in the back corner of the end zone over two defenders on Monday’s practice as one of his top plays. Josh Boyce started OTA’s and minicamp on a slow pace due to his foot injury, but he’s quickly adjusting with the Patriots offense. However, Patriots Football Weekly Paul Perillo noted that Tom Brady’s body language showed some impatience with the new core of rookie receivers, but Brady did not show signs of frustration during post-practice media availability on Friday.
Regardless of the improvements or setbacks, it’s part of practice and part of the process of getting better each day. But given the Patriots have only Julian Edelman in the receiving core that is familiar with the system, does that mean Tom Brady should have more exposure during the preseason games to work with the rookies in a “real” game setting?
Coach Bill Belichick was asked during Monday’s press conference if he foresees playing Brady more in the preseason games to get him reps with new receivers. Coach Belichick answer was, “We really haven’t even talked about that. We’ll have those discussions as we get closer to the game based on a lot of things. We’ll just have to wait and see on that.”
It’s interesting to imagine that a discussion would not have taken place, even in its lightest context, since coach Belichick is such a great planner. The Patriots offense got its unique feature by its fast and no-huddle approach. The opponents were basically crying out loud because the defense did not have enough time to settle themselves. As WEEI.com Christopher Price analyzes some data from the NFL gamebooks in this amazing piece, the Patriots went no-huddle on 242 of their 1,082 snaps, a rate of 22 percent during the 2011 regular season. In 2012, the Patriots increased that number by going no-huddle on 294 of their 1,191 total plays, a rate of 25 percent.
A major part of the success of the no-huddle approach is the players’ familiarity with the system, players’ talent and continuity of players in the system. But since four of last year receivers are no longer in the roster, an arrival of new receivers raises the attention that the Patriots might not be as successful in a fast-tempo offense this year; therefore, having to slow down the train so the new crew is able to catch up. Tom Brady had this to say last week in regards to slowing down the tempo as a way of simplifying it.
“Our offense is a lot of communication. You’ve got to just throw as much in there as you can and see what we can pick up. It’s not really a slow-paced offense. You need to think fast, you’ve got to communicate well, everyone’s got to be on the same page, so it’s hard to slow down something for one person. The train’s moving at this point. It takes really smart football players to be in this system and guys that have done well have been smart players who can adjust quickly. Football is important, they go home and study, they work at it. That’s what it’s all about here.”
It’s very likely that the offense will start the first part of the season on a slower tempo, which is very understandable. However, as the game, practice and chemistry of players amplify, so will the tempo. But regardless of whether the Patriots brings a huddle or no-huddle approach, this is the NFL and the pace is usually faster for most rookies – no matter what position they play. The important part is that the Patriots and Belichick finds way to explore and expose players’ ability, and in finding a niche that creates adaptability in their system in a relatively short period of time (unless injuries set in, or somehow a player does not have what it takes to conquer in the NFL).
Belichick has stressed out on the importance of this year’s teams joint practices as a “competitive-practice”, having the first one with Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles (the genius who raised Belichick curiosity on implementing the no-huddle offense), followed by hosting his “pal’s” Greg Schiano Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who has revamped the Bucs defense this year) next week. Although preseason games are an excellent way to indicate a team’s preparedness and who makes the 53-man roster, I believe the risks of maximizing starters playing time does not outweigh the benefit of increasing reps or rapport among players.
Our offensive line is of high-quality, but the depth chart is a bit too thin to take on the risk to increase our starters playing time to protect Brady during preseason games, so that, rookies can get the reps they need. The Patriots have a powerful rushing game backed up by a strong depth chart at the running back position. That production should be similar or surpass last year’s production of 523 rushing yards attempt for a total of 2,184 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Team joint practices, training camp, more practices, smartness, home-study, and working hard at it will eventually build up communication, talent and the speed the team needs. I’m confident this week’s practice with the Eagles will serve as a great preview for the rookies to get acclimated with an up-tempo offense. Maximizing players’ durability for the long haul is a must and our starters should be utilized for when the game really counts.