In the days leading up to a regular-season game in the NFL, the two competing teams work extensively on game plans that are tailored to their opponents' tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. They practice specific things they hope will work against their foes and often even script a series of plays to follow at the opening of the game. Obviously, these preparations are conducted in private, at each team's respective facility, without prying eyes to give away strategy.
Prior to tonight's game at Raymond James Stadium between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots, the two teams got in plenty of useful work…on the same practice field.
Clearly, the preseason is a different animal. Even though the two teams are each other's Week Three opponent, meaning the starters will be on the field for a lot longer than in any other preseason game, the goals of August are different than those of September. Teams are a lot less worried about strategy and much more focused on preparation and roster-shaping. On game day there is the same desire to win, but ultimately the result won't count in the playoff race, so it makes more sense to work in a manner that is most likely to help produce victories in the regular season.
The Buccaneers and Patriots believe they did just that by working together on Wednesday and Thursday before their full-speed collision on Friday.
"It was very beneficial for a lot of reasons," said Tampa Bay Head Coach Greg Schiano. "One, at this point in training camp, to go against another team kind of broke the monotony a little bit. We did do some one-on-one stuff – O-Line/D-Line, wide receivers, things like that – but I think the thing that is also very good is the 11-on-11 stuff. It was all good stuff, though, all things that should make us better."
For the Buccaneers, the quality of the opponent – or the guest, as it might be better put in regards to Wednesday and Thursday – was important, as well. New England's visit came about largely because Schiano has a good relationship with Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Belichick has long been a fan of such joint practices. The Buccaneers and the Patriots are both 0-0 heading into September and they both have the same postseason aspirations, but that doesn't mean New England's history of success is irrelevant. Schiano thought his young team could get in some good work this week and perhaps learn some professional tendencies from their visitors.
"I think when that other team is a World Champion and a team that has some first-ballot Hall of Famers, you have an opportunity to just watch and learn a little bit, as well as compete," he said. "These are two organizations that I think really enjoy competing. Certainly they're a little further ahead than we are, but it's a good model to follow."
Even the coaches were able to use the two days of work to gather some helpful information.
"Coach Belichick's been a good mentor and become a good friend," said Schiano. "When I was at Rutgers he really helped me develop as a head coach, and making the jump to this league. I think he's been a good source of information. Now granted, we're competitors, but in a situation where it doesn't compromise the competitive nature of the league, I think he's been a really good source of information."