FOXBOROUGH — It was little more than a month ago that the Patriots hosted the Buccaneers for three days of joint training camp practices and then the second preseason game for both.
In the days since, the two teams have combined for more than 140 transactions, but the core of each roster remains, meaning the majority of the principals taking the field Sunday had that time together in August and will be meeting again.
Depending on whom you talk to, there’s either nothing New England and Tampa Bay will carry into this week’s game from those practices, or there were actually beneficial lessons learned.
“It helped us,” Buccaneers running back Doug Martin said. “We have a great familiarity with them and what they do, and that is a definite advantage for us.”
And on the other side, New England defensive lineman Tommy Kelly: “At the end of the day, they’re running basic stuff [in training camp]. They aren’t going to give away too much; they’re really just trying to get their fundamentals, so you really can’t take too much out of the preseason.
“Both of us — a lot of vanilla offense, a lot of vanilla defense.”
The Patriots have held joint practices six times over the last four years, and this is the first time one of the squads they’ve shared the field with is on the regular-season schedule.
But perhaps Bill Belichick’s relationship with Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano was part of the reason it didn’t bother him to have the joint practices with the Buccaneers, or maybe he believed the benefits of the practices outweighed any potential negative of spending so much time with a team they’d see three weeks into the regular season.
“We’ve been on the field with them, so we have a little more familiarity, but at that point in time, we’ve got 90 people in camp, we’re trying to run our plays, they’ve got 90 people in camp, they’re trying to run their plays and evaluate who can do what and just have a good, competitive practice out there,” Belichick said.
“Now it’s a totally different matchup and we have a specific game plan for them.
“I’m sure they have a very specific game plan for us that’s way, way different from what it was in training camp practices where everybody is trying to get their techniques down, getting their training camp legs under them, trying to get ready for the season.
“This is a much more competitive situation all the way around, with specific competition involved, and I think it’s a much broader, general situation in training camp — although that was very good, don’t get me wrong. It helped our team a lot.”
While neither team did anything really exotic in August, it stands to reason that there was value in terms of learning individual tendencies, and how an opposing player responds in certain situations.
For example, Nate Solder now knows that Gerald McCoy has a heck of a bull rush, and he will be prepared to counter it this time — unlike last time, when Tom Brady hit the dirt, and temporary panic set in across New England when it looked as though Brady injured his knee.
Defensive backs get the experience of having seen receivers they may have been unfamiliar with but now have matched up with in drills.
“I think you can take a lot,” the Patriots’ Steve Gregory said. “Obviously being able to practice with a team for that long and then being able to play a game against them, you get to familiarize yourself with their personnel and the guys that they have across the ball from you, the Vincent Jackson, Josh Freeman, the guys that are out there still with them that we got a chance to practice against during the preseason.
“It’s definitely valuable experience for us, but on the other side of it, too, they got to play against us and get the same type of experiences. It goes both ways.”
The overriding opinion from both teams, however, was that for as helpful as the joint practices were, come game time, things will look a lot different than they did in their preseason game.
“What they’ll do this week, how much stuff will be carried over, I don’t know,” Brady said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. But we have a lot of stuff on film, and you see a lot of matchups and things like that, how we get open versus their guys most specifically, that’s probably what we worked on most during those [practice] days.
“But the actual game plan, we have our own game plan. That wasn’t really a game-plan week, that was just more of, ‘Let’s just throw the Patriot offense against the Tampa defense.’ And they’ll game-plan against us, too, based on what they think they need to attack after the first couple of week, so it’ll be a good game. It’ll be a fun game.”