The Patriots finally will get a chance to break up the monotony of training camp this week when they travel to West Virginia for joint practices Wednesday and Thursday with the New Orleans Saints prior to the teams facing off in an exhibition game Saturday night at the Superdome.
But coach Bill Belichick said the focus of the practices will not be so much on trying to gain an advantage on the Saints as it will be on both teams continuing to progress toward the regular season.
“This isn’t really a game plan . . . what plays we run against the Saints or what they run against us,” said Belichick in a conference call Sunday afternoon. “It’s more for us to evaluate individual players against different matchups and letting your players learn the execution of the plays against a different type of defense or against a different type of offense than what we’ve been seeing over the last two weeks from ourselves.
“We’re not trying to do anything that they haven’t prepared for or vice versa. That doesn’t do any of us any good to go out and see something that we haven’t worked on and that we’re not prepared for.”
The Patriots and Saints have twice before held joint practices during the preseason, in 2010 and in 2012, both times in Foxborough.
“We’ve had a good working relationship with the Saints and with [coach] Sean [Payton], his staff, their entire organization. We just want to get better, they want to get better, and we want to work with each other so that we can both do that,” said Belichick.
More than protection
There weren’t many familiar names starting on the offensive line for the Patriots during their preseason opener against Green Bay on Thursday night. With Bryan Stork, Sebastian Vollmer, and Nate Solder banged up and not on the field, the starting line had just 11 games of NFL experience.
But, according to Belichick, a lack of protection from the inexperienced unit was not the lone reason Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked seven times.
“I think that some of the times that the quarterback was hit or pressured there were a number of issues in the passing game . . . whether it was protection, decision-making by the quarterback, inability of the receivers to get open, the design of the play relative to the defense that the Packers were in,” Belichick said.
“I wouldn’t put it all in one area, but I wouldn’t exclude any of those areas either.”
Depending on Develin
Fullback James Develin sometimes may fly under the radar on a Patriots team loaded with offensive stars, but Belichick, who always has had an affinity for versatile role players, certainly appreciates what the veteran brings to the team.
“James is a tough kid. He’s very smart, tough,” said Belichick. “His assignments are really never a problem with him. He’s been very dependable and durable.
“He’s physically strong and that helps him as a blocker or occasionally as an inside ball carrier. He’s got good hands and he catches the ball well. He’s got a lot of things going for him.
“He works extremely hard, and on a day-to-day basis, he’s one of the most dependable players we have.”
Develin played all 16 games in each of the last two seasons for New England, working primarily as a blocker. Develin had seven rushes for 15 yards and a touchdown and 10 receptions for 105 yards during that span.