Considering how close Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick were when they worked together with the Patriots, it’s no surprise that the Lions and Patriots have very similar practice schedules and protocols.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Sometimes it would be a 45-minute phone call or a series of emails. It’s a lot more intricate and complex than rolling balls out there or placing the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense on the field and letting it go for three days.
In the lead-up to three days of joint practices between the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots that begin Monday, Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have spent parts of every day planning and coordinating.
Everything is scheduled and understood. In the case of Patricia and Belichick — or next week with Patricia and Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien — there’s a common base of work. Before they took over their teams, both Patricia and O’Brien worked in New England. In Patricia’s case, it’s where he learned basically everything about coaching in the NFL.
As a result, planning a joint practice became much, much easier.
“You can actually now really dive in and say, ‘We’re going to do seven-on-seven here. This is going to be a team period. We’re looking for this drill here. Hey, what about, we used to do this drill? No, let’s change it to this,'” Patricia said. “That conversation goes so much smoother and faster, where we’re obviously in a time crunch here at training camp, where we’re working at so many different things.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise. So much of what the Lions have done — from player acquisition to messaging to scheduling to adding a hill off to the side of the practice field for conditioning — has roots in Patricia’s Patriots past.
Patricia said basic communication has been easier because — don’t be surprised — “we’re probably on pretty much the same exact schedule.” The breaks in the day, Patricia said, even align.
For the purposes of joint practices, this can be a benefit. When the New York Giants and Lions coordinated joint practices in Allen Park last year, it was obvious that there were some different philosophies at play. For example, the Lions ran some drill periods after the Giants appeared to be finished for the day.
Don’t expect that to happen over the next two weeks, as Belichickian philosophies are more ingrained in the coaches the Lions are working with this preseason.
“There’s another easy facet when everybody’s on the same schedule and doing relatively the same thing, just in different cities,” Patricia said. “It makes that communication that much easier. It’s a little bit more difficult if you’re practicing against a team that’s on a different time zone or the hours are just different or the schedule is just different to really nail down a lot of that.
“Communication, it becomes — it’s not hard. It’s just more of a challenge.”
What should you expect to see from three days of Lions-Patriots joint practices? There’s a lot to pay attention to — and that’s without seeing if players such as Trey Flowers, Da’Shawn Hand and Damon Harrison practice. Darius Slay came off the non-football injury list on Friday, so his status for the practices could be in question as well.
Player evaluation is going to be key: Patricia made that clear. Despite the obvious similarities between New England and Detroit — particularly on defense — the practices, and even Thursday’s preseason game, are going to be about how players handle certain situations. That’s going to be something to watch at offensive guard, cornerback and depth wide receiver. This is a chance for a player to make an impression. If a player can make play after play against an opponent over three days, that likely will be noticed by coaches. These practices also offer tangible tape on opposing players to compare with your own guys. The Lions’ defense has multiple former Giants — Romeo Okwara, Andrew Adams and Harrison were all with the Giants when they practiced against Detroit in 2018. While you’re watching what Detroit players do, take note of Patriots and Texans players too — because Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn will likely be evaluating them.
If the Lions’ defense struggles, don’t be surprised: As mentioned above, the Lions are without a lot of key defensive players. Even if they come off injury lists over the next three days, it would be surprising to see them thrust into work against other teams. In team sessions, take that (as you should with most of what happens in the preseason) with the requisite understanding that this is about evaluation and development, not scheme and winning/losing. With that in mind, going against the defending Super Bowl champions for almost a full week will be a good litmus test for where the Lions might be at this point in their development.
The return of Tom Brady: The 42-year-old former Michigan quarterback has been gone from Ann Arbor for almost 20 years, and at this point in his career, any chance for Wolverines fans to see him practice and play might be their last. Don’t be surprised if there are a good amount of Brady supporters in the crowd the next three days. Conversely, rookie defensive lineman Chase Winovich will be coming back to the state for the first time in … a couple of months. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun and quarterback Brian Hoyer, both Michigan State products, could have favorable followings as well.
Gilmore-Golladay will be one to watch: With Slay’s availability unknown, the receiver-corner matchup to watch will undoubtedly be Kenny Golladay vs. Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore is one of the league’s top corners, and Golladay is attempting to reach the next level in his third season. Golladay will likely learn a lot from matchups with the two-time Pro Bowler, and if he’s able to win a majority of them, that could be a good sign for Detroit’s receiving corps. Also worth watching: T.J. Hockenson vs. whomever New England matches up on him (safeties, linebackers, etc.), Justin Coleman vs. Julian Edelman, and the combination of Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel and perhaps Winovich against Detroit’s offensive line.