The opportunity for a team to work closely with an upcoming opponent holds immeasurable benefits. For the New England Patriots, a chance to have two joint practices with the Atlanta Falcons will prove to be an additional insight into Thursday’s second preseason game.
The two practices that took place in Flowery Branch, Georgia Tuesday were high tempo keeping the pace of previous practice sessions. Fortunately for players, the practices were only held in shorts and light pads.
Key observations: How the combined practices proved to be a benefit for teams, Brady and Welker’s game status and players who did not make the trip
Combined Practices are an Overall Benefit
After a light morning practice on Monday, the Patriots boarded a plane headed for Georgia for joint practices with the Atlanta Falcons. New England views this as a perfect opportunity for both teams to work with different defensive formations. Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes explained,
“...Seeing a new scheme is very, very important for us,” Grimes said. “The 3-4 is something that we’re going to see early in the season, three of our first four opponents. I think it’s invaluable the work that we got today.”
Falcons head coach Mike Smith applauded the Patriots’ work ethic and competitiveness but knows that his young offense can handle anything Bill Belichick attempts to try on Thursday, even if that included some double teaming on the Falcons’ top players.
|Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) attempts a pass during NFL football training camp against the New England Patriots in Flowery Branch, Ga., Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Abell)
“Even if you do take me away you still have players like WR Roddy White, RB Michael Turner, and WR Michael Jenkins. QB Matt [Ryan] is going to be able to distribute the ball,” Smith said. “We try and be as balanced as we can, so if you take away one of our guys, you won’t be able to take them all away.”
Balance is something that the Patriots have diligently been working on all training camp. With the increased usage of the tight ends, the improvement of the overall running game and several changes in the offensive and defensive line, achieving a level of balance is a constant battle.
Brady, Ready to Go...Welker Still Unsure
A morning practice with a few of Brady’s fingers taped together sparked the discussion as to whether or not the franchise quarterback was injured. Brady smiled on Tuesday and reassured that everything was fine. The quarterback was in top form and was even able to make an impression on the Falcons’ head coach.
Mike Smith confessed, “..That quarterback is up there, QB Tom (Brady) is amazing. I never had an opportunity to really see him and stand right there in the huddle. You see why he’s had the success he’s had..”
Patriots fans in Atlanta were excited to see that wide receiver Wes Welker made the trip to take part in the joint practices. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee the Patriots’ top slot receiver will make an appearance in the second preseason game.
Although Welker has made a dramatically quick recovery from his torn ACL injury, the Patriots have been noticeably careful with allowing for the receiver to get some real game time. Until Welker returns at full strength, the Patriots will most likely utilize Julian Edelman as a slot receiver.
Missing Out: 13 Patriots Not Participating
Since the beginning of camp, the list of Patriots of players that yet to make an appearance seemed only get longer. The following players were missing from Tuesday’s joint practices.
While these’ absences are felt, the lack of depth for the Patriots defense makes the fact that Banta-Cain and Cunningham are missing on the outside only adds to the team’s vulnerability. Patriots have welcomed back defensive end Derrick Burgess and he is set to make an immediate impact, even with missing the majority of training camp.
Defensive leader Vince Wilfork spoke of nothing but support for Burgess’ return to the field.
“He's back. And he's stepping right in and he's doing whatever he can to help this ball
Club,” said Wilfork. “He's a hell of a ballplayer. I'm happy he's back with us. He's happy he's back with us. And he made it very clear that he's happy he's back with us. So we have no love lost for him.”
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, right, blocks New England Patriots defensive lineman Marques Murrell (93) during NFL football training camp in Flowery Branch, Ga., Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Abell)
Kisha’s Key Point: The Outside Linebacker Dilemma
Tully Banta-Cain has been the Patriots’ top pass rusher in recent years and was highly successful in the outside linebacker position in 2009. In the 2010 Draft, the Patriots acquired Jermaine Cunningham, a defensive end from Florida. Cunningham was also known for his skill in attacking an offense and outside containment.
Both Banta-Cain and Cunningham will not play in the preseason game against the Falcons. In fact, the two aren’t even in the same state as the rest of their teammates.
Banta-Cain is struggling with what looked to be with an ankle injury, while Cunningham has been out of commission since the joint practices with the New Orleans Saints. With two more missing, the holes in the Patriots defense continue to get bigger. Right now, the depth chart is looking rather shallow.
Newcomers Marques Murrell and Derrick Burgess should carry the load for the outside linebackers in the battle with the Falcons. Still with Murrell recording a sack in the first game and Burgess coming off of a season with five sacks and 35 total tackles, it is difficult to see who will step up as the defensive leader for the team’s second preseason game.
The Patriots must be able to contain the running game and limit the damage done by for Falcons running back Michael Turner. Outside linebackers much also be on high alert for the likes of tight end Tony Gonzalez and top receiver Roddy White. Both Falcons targets can be deadly if they’re left open to make plays. White was the YAC (yards after catch) leader on the Falcons offense with a total of 392 yards.
Outside linebackers for the Patriots, whoever they may be, have to explode off the snap, focus on the offensive reads and also be prepared for any trickery. With the lack of security in this position, the Patriots are taking a gamble against a proven and effective Falcons’ offensive.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check in all camp long for regular updates by Kisha