FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For three years, Matt Light blocked for Drew Brees at Purdue. On Tuesday, the Patriots left tackle and the Saints quarterback will practice on the same field.
The Super Bowl champs are coming to town.
For the first time since Light was a rookie in 2001, New England is holding joint practices with another NFL team. Starting on Tuesday, the Patriots will work out for two days with New Orleans, the team Brees led to its first title last season.
“There’s going to be a pretty good buzz throughout practice this week,” Light said Monday.
It comes at a good time — nearly two weeks after the Patriots began hitting each other in training camp and two days before the Patriots and Saints meet in their first preseason game.
In 2001, the Patriots were coming off a 5-11 season and held joint practices with the New York Giants, who had lost the previous Super Bowl. Light was just starting his NFL career after being drafted 17th in the second round, 16 spots after Brees.
“It was just a whole different way to approach practice,” Light said. “I think everybody was a lot more mentally ready to go. They were really working on what they had to do individually. It’s a great competitive atmosphere.”
The Patriots won the preseason game after the practices, 14-0 over the Giants, and went on to win the first of their three Super Bowl championships. But the workouts didn’t seem to have helped since the Patriots lost three of their first four regular-season games.
Still, players would rather face real opponents than their own teammates.
“We can build team chemistry,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “When we scrimmage against somebody, it’s just our team versus their team and we can kind of build that bond and build that cohesiveness and cheer each other on.”
There wasn’t much for the Patriots to cheer last season when they were routed in New Orleans 38-17 as the Saints improved to 11-0. Brees became the first player to throw for five touchdowns in a game against New England since Bill Belichick became coach in 2000.
The beating took place in the Louisiana Superdome where the Patriots won their first championship, and they went on to a 10-6 record and a first-round playoff loss.
“They were the best football team in the NFL last year, so we can throw accolades at them all morning,” Belichick said. “They’re good players, they’re well coached. They certainly handled us down there in every phase of the game.
“It’s a new year, but we know that they’re a great football team and it will be a good opportunity for us to compete against somebody that we know has a high quality of performance, coming off a great year.”
Running back Kevin Faulk, entering his 12th season with the Patriots out of Louisiana State, put it more directly: “They just outplayed us, beat us, really beat us.”
There are several connections between the teams besides the Brees-Light relationship.
Randall Gay started at cornerback for New England when it won the 2005 Super Bowl. Fullback Heath Evans was with the Patriots from 2005 through 2008. Tight end David Thomas was drafted by them in 2006. All are with New Orleans. The Patriots have former New Orleans linebacker Rob Ninkovich.
Belichick expects the teams to warm up and do drills by themselves before practicing together.
That should give his players a different, more intense approach than if they were just facing their own teammates again.
“It’s definitely good to see a different scheme, different offense, different players, different uniforms,” Bodden said. “You can bang around with them a little bit and not have to worry about if you hurt a guy, it’s not your teammate, and it definitely gets guys prepared for the game.”
Bodden tried to take advantage of a similar situation after he joined Cleveland as a rookie in May 2003. He used joint practices with Detroit as a way to impress coaches.
“I was a free agent so I had to make a name for myself,” he said. “So I was going out there doing any and everything I could to get noticed and show the coaches that I could play (against) another team and compete at the highest level.”
Now he and his Patriots teammates will do it again.
“It gets you excited. You’re scrimmaging against the Super Bowl champs,” Faulk said. “They’re still considered the best so we’ve got to go up against the best and see where we are as a team.”