FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick has been holding joint practices in training camp for nearly a decade, finding these sessions with another team to be a valuable tool for simulating an actual NFL game day.
“This gives us a chance to simulate the moving game — first down, second down, third down, ball moves, field position moves, the kicking unit comes on the field, other offensive or defensive unit comes out on the exchange,” Belichick said in advance of holding three practices this week with the Jacksonville Jaguars. “And that’s how you play. You don’t run 10 first-down plays in a row. You don’t run eight third-down plays in a row or eight sub-blitzes in a row or 10 punts in a row. That’s just not football.”
Doug Marrone and the Jaguars are getting the same benefits this week in their practice sessions at Gillette Stadium. But as the Jaguars discovered on Monday during the first practice of the week, they’re getting a valuable education on what it’s like to look, act, and play like a championship franchise.
“It’s a great opportunity to practice against the defending world champs and see where we’re at,” said middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play against the best quarterback in the world, and to compete against guys that we know compete at a high level at all times.”
If any team needs a close-up look at a winning franchise, it’s the Jaguars, who have been losing for nearly a decade. Their last playoff game was their 31-20 loss to the Patriots in Foxborough in the divisional round of the 2007-08 playoffs.
The Jaguars haven’t had a winning season in the nine years since. They’re riding a streak of six straight losing seasons, and they are 15-49 since the start of the 2013 season, tied with the Browns for the worst record in the league.
Now they’re starting fresh under new coach Marrone and new football boss Tom Coughlin, looking to instill a culture of discipline and accountability that apparently was lacking.
Fortunately, they get to see the Patriots up close for three practices this week and a preseason game on Thursday.
“I think everyone understands where they are, what they’ve done,” Marrone said after Monday’s practice. “We have a great deal of respect for their coaches and their players. It’s a fact. I don’t think you really have to talk about it enough, I know everybody knows it.”
They get to watch how a professional team conducts itself in practice — no time wasted, very efficient, everything done with purpose.
The Jaguars’ defensive backs also got an education on Monday from Tom Brady and the Patriots’ receivers. New speedster Brandin Cooks put on a clinic, burning past a Jaguars double team twice on deep balls. The first one from Brady just glanced off his fingertips, but he raced under the second one for a 50-yard catch.
Chris Hogan also made tough catches in traffic. Julian Edelman made tough catches over the middle. And Brady was nearly unstoppable, picking apart the Jaguars’ secondary like he was in midseason form.
The practice was reminiscent of the Patriots’ joint practices with Washington during the 2014 preseason, another team with a first-year coach and a struggling young quarterback.
It was obvious during those three practices at Redskins camp which team was the veteran Super Bowl contender, and which one was starting over with another rebuilding project. The Patriots dragged the ’Skins up and down the field for three days, as even the backup quarterbacks looked like stars.
Washington went 4-12 that season under Jay Gruden as Robert Griffin III lost his starting job for good. It’s not exactly the outcome that Marrone and Blake Bortles are rooting for.
New Jaguars free agent cornerback A.J. Bouye, who faced the Patriots twice last year when he was a member of the Texans, said he told his younger teammates Monday to pay attention to the Patriots’ sideline.
“I just told them when we’re not on the field, watch how their defense practices, watch what they do, watch how they run to the ball and everything with their technique,” Bouye said. “Even us on the sideline, were locked into what they were doing.”
The Jaguars have a big organizational decision to make about Bortles, now entering his fourth and potentially final year. And they probably won’t end their playoff streak this year, or until they figure out a better answer at quarterback.
But the Jaguars have a bit of optimism after adding a couple of playoff-tested veterans in Bouye and Calais Campbell, and have Coughlin (with his two Super Bowl rings) running the organization.
And, if they’re lucky, a little championship magic will rub off from the Patriots this week.
“I’m thankful to Coach Belichick for giving us this opportunity because at the end of the day, we’re just trying to get our football team better,” Marrone said. “This is definitely going to help us.”