PHILADELPHIA — When the Patriots were in Foxborough for the first 10 days of training camp, it was all about white vs. blue — offense against defense.
Though lining up against the same player over and over can get a little stale, there was still plenty of jawing back and forth, and a couple of shoves here and there, as guys did everything they could to show they belong and whatever possible to make sure their unit won the snap.
But in coming to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, the Patriots got a chance to work on bonding as an entire team, not just an offense or defense or special teams group.
“During training camp, you go at each other so much sometimes you can forget that at the end of the day you’re a team,” said safety Devin McCourty. “So when we get out here, we’re encouraging all those, the younger receivers, encouraging them to go out there and make plays.
“Go out there, if you’re making plays against us in practice, go do it against another team. So we’ve got their back and they’ve got our back and it’s a great chance to build total team camaraderie.”
Fellow captain Matthew Slater agreed.
“Without question,” said Slater. “This is the first time since the season has started that we haven’t been going against one another. It’s definitely a change of pace and I think you’ve seen us come together as a team through this experience this week and continue that team-building process, which is a process that is very underrated.
“It’s very important in the grand scheme of things, and I think that this team’s coming together, been through a lot. I think we’ll be better for it.”
That “coming together” was encapsulated Wednesday during 11-on-11 work, with Tom Brady and the first-string offense facing the Eagles’ top defense, when the secondary, led by Aqib Talib, was whooping it up with every big play made by a receiver.
But even on Thursday, during a slowed-down walkthrough, you could hear teammates on the sidelines clapping when a play was run well.
The Patriots will get more of the us-vs.-them feeling next week, when the Buccaneers are in town for joint practices and a preseason game.
“We’re very competitive by nature, you just change the target,” Slater said. “We’re always going to be competitive, [even if] we’re playing tic-tac-toe, that’s just the nature of us as athletes and we have a lot of competitive guys on the team.
“But we’ve turned that focus, and been able to turn it to an opponent and come together as a team, and that’s what it’s going to be on Sundays. It’s good to start that process early in training camp and hopefully continue it throughout the season.”
Ups and downs
Rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson has experienced the polar opposites of emotions this week.
On Tuesday, he found himself in Bill Belichick’s doghouse after getting into a scrap with Eagles defensive back Cary Williams. Belichick and Eagles coach Chip Kelly had established a strict “no fighting” policy before practice, and Dobson and Williams were sent off the field for the day.
“It happened and it’s over, so I’ve just got to learn from it,” Dobson said Thursday.
But on Wednesday, he made the highlight play of practice, twisting his body twice to locate a deep pass from Brady, and then using his 6-foot-4-inch frame to outjump two defenders for a 50-yard catch. His teammates howled with delight on the sideline.
“Definitely just making steps forward every day — baby steps,” he said. “I’m just trying to get on the same page as my quarterback and my offense, just try to do what I can do.”
Dobson said that playing basketball in high school has helped him win jump balls on the football field.
“It’s like going up for rebounds, and you can control your body,” he said. “I guess it’s a good skill set for a receiver,” he said.
Dobson and fellow rookie receivers Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins have looked good through two weeks of camp, but Friday night’s game against the Eagles will be a whole new experience for them.
“Definitely jitters a little bit because it’s something new, but I’m definitely ready for it,” Dobson said.
Vick in a battle
Kelly announced Thursday that Michael Vick will start Friday’s game but will split first-team reps with Nick Foles. Foles will start the team’s second preseason game, against Carolina next Thursday.
Vick, the first overall pick (by Atlanta) in 2001, and Foles, a third-round pick last year, are vying for the starting job. Kelly did not want anyone to read into the fact that Vick is starting the first preseason game, saying it was simply his turn on the schedule.
This is foreign territory for Vick, who is used to being a starter; he started 34 of the 35 games he has played for Philadelphia over the last three years.
“I’ve never been in this situation before,” Vick said. “I’ve been to where I’ve had to compete for a job coming out of college, but it’s never been this severe.
“I’m just taking it in stride, man. I can just control what I can control. I can’t do it all. I can’t do everything. But the one thing I can do is have fun.”