It's as inevitable a part of an NFL training camp as sweat and yelling coaches: At some point, 10 or 12 days in, somebody will compare the whole process to Groundhog Day.
That Bill Murray classic is hilarious, of course, but not for Murray's time-stranded main character. And like Phil Connors, players in training camp seem to live the same day over and over again, to the point of tedium.
Fortunately for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots, training camp is (technically) over and there is something more interesting to screen in the film room this week. On Wednesday and Thursday, in advance of Friday's game between the two teams, the Patriots are visiting One Buccaneer Place to conduct a pair of joint practices with Tampa Bay players. Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano says the shared work is good not only for whatever competitive benefits it provides but also simply to alleviate boredom.
"You do get into a little bit of a lull there with camp going on and on, so this certainly is something that excites the players," said Schiano. "Heck, it excites me. You get a championship organization coming down to practice against, you get to watch as you're doing it, you get to watch how they do things.
"[The players] were excited to go against you know, one of the best football teams in this league, if not the best, and any time you get a guy like Tom Brady, a first-ballot Hall of Famer that's going up and down the field, that's great for our defense. And when you've got to block a guy like Vince Wilfork, you know, when he's on your nose, it's great for our offense. And just situational stuff – to be able to do it was good."
Schiano and New England Head Coach Bill Belichick are well-acquainted, and they came to a mutual agreement before their respective training camps to bring their teams together this week. Belichick, who also set up joint practices in New Orleans earlier this month, obviously saw many benefits to the visit as well.
"I think it will be a real productive couple days for us," he said. "We're going to improve our football team and work on some things against a different opponent with good competition. It's a quick turnaround but I know our guys are excited to be down here and I think we're going to get a lot out of it. I have a good relationship with this organization and I think it will be mutually beneficial."
The two teams used separate fields during the early portion of practice to run through their respective individual-position work, then came together for such typical practice fodder as OL/DL one-one-ones, the seven-on-seven passing period and situational full-team drills. The Bucs countered Brady with the likes of Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, and had some Pro Bowl-flavored matchups between Wilfork and the Davin Joseph-Carl Nicks duo. Regardless of the specific matchups, however, both sides felt as if the work was productive simply because it was unfamiliar.
"It's different schemes that you're seeing, and you want to see how your plays adjust to some different things," said Brady. "I think that's what we're trying to figure out. Some of the things that we've been working on that we've only had a chance to see against our own defense, we get a chance to see them against another defense. That's good for us, to develop some confidence in some plays and situations.
Added Joseph: "It was a good day of work. We did our regular practice, against an opponent, so it was good work. Still got to watch the tape, but I thought it was good work. We had some good one-on-one work today against some really good guys. It was a productive day."
And it produced plenty of footage for the film room, tape that looked quite different than either Groundhog Day or the usual video produced by a Buccaneers or Patriots practice.
"It was definitely good work," said Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. "It's a great opportunity to practice against a quality opponent and try to get better. We had a chance to really go out and push ourselves. You got to come in and see some different looks and practice against somebody that's not your own teammate. I thought it was very productive. Can't wait to get in this afternoon and review the film."