White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – There's sound reasoning for Coach Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints warmly to embrace two days of joint training camp practices with the New England Patriots on Wednesday and Thursday at The Greenbrier.
First, there's the opportunity to grade and gauge the performance against the reigning Super Bowl champions, a franchise that has won four Super Bowls in the last 14 seasons under Coach Bill Belichick.
Second, there's the opportunity to work, period. And given that skirmishes often erupt for NFL teams during joint practices, that fact can't be overlooked.
But the Saints and Patriots, Payton said, never have had that arise as an issue. And it's one of the main reasons the two franchises have engaged in joint practices several times, and leads to the belief that they competitively, but productively, can do so ahead of Saturday's game in New Orleans, the preseason home opener in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Saints (0-1).
"I think when you get a team like New England, we've worked so well together in the past," Payton said. "There haven't been any issues, there hasn't been any fighting or any of that other stuff. It's really been about football and guys getting better, so when you have that type of success with prior practices, it's easy to commit to another one.
"And I also think it comes at a time where it livens up (training camp), players are a little bit more alert, they're getting different looks, there'll be some scheme things that are different for both teams, and then personnel. You're getting a chance to really look at 90 other players that you're not as familiar with."
Depending on the weather, the teams will work on the upper two fields at The Greenbrier. In the case of inclement weather – rain is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday – practice may be held on the lower field, if there's no lightning.
Payton said the drills will look similar to the ones the Saints already are engaging in.
"There are certain things you try to emphasize when you have 180 players together," he said. "You want to get to some two-spot team drills so you're getting enough reps, you want to get to some drills that involve the younger players. I think ultimately it leads to these younger guys, when the game comes Saturday night, having a much better feel for the opponent than maybe they otherwise would.
"So there's kind of an exchange back and forth of some things both of us would like to get accomplished. But I would say by and large, it would be similar to the drills you've seen – there'll be a 7-on-7 period, there'll be a team period, there'll be a lot of special team periods, some situational periods. I know there'll be two-minute each day.
"I would say other than the fact that there's twice as many players, you'll see a lot of the same drills that you see us running now or that they're running now. They'll just be in a joint form."
That's fine with players. Having spent all of OTAs, minicamp and training camp, except the preseason opener against the Ravens in Baltimore, in the faces of each other, they're looking forward to unfamiliarity.
"It's a new defense that you get to go against, and it's an opportunity where you can once again showcase to the coaches what you can do throughout the rest of this week leading up to the preseason game," receiver Brandon Coleman said.
"You do get used to the same (defensive backs), going against them in one-on-ones and team periods and stuff like that. It'll be a fresh start to go against a new secondary."
Said rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony: "You'll get a chance to see a different face, a different team and a different look."
Payton, too, recognizes that fresh opposition likely will be productive for both teams.
"I think they can become more competitive because it's a different opponent," he said. "In our third week now, the timing of seeing someone else can heighten the awareness or the competition some, in a good way.
"Just the opportunity to go against another opponent – I look at it, to some degree, 'Hey, we get a chance to go against a team that just won a Super Bowl.' Back in 2010, it was flipped around when we went to New England, (and) we had just come off a Super Bowl season and we practiced up there for three days. But I think the bigger picture is the vision that both staffs and both organizations have for what you're trying to accomplish. And typically, that permeates the teams."
It all will lead up to Saturday's preseason game, both teams looking for improvement that sprang from the work against each other on Wednesday and Thursday.
"I would say, I think it can be a real good aid in playing better on Saturday," Payton said. "You've had a chance to work against a receiver for one of the other teams, or work against a corner or a pass rusher. I think it can be real positive for both teams."