NASHVILLE – Get your popcorn, um, sunscreen ready.
The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are headed to Music City to practice against the Tennessee Titans.
The two joint practices – from 9:50 a.m.-noon on Wednesday and Thursday – will be free for fans to attend at Saint Thomas Sports Park, with no ticket required.
So, head on out. And here’s a look at six things to watch…
Tom Brady vs. the Titans secondary
Some refer to Brady, New England’s quarterback, simply as the GOAT. Hey, this is the Titans website here, so we’re not going there. But we’re going to give the guy credit – he’s won six Super Bowl rings, three league MVP awards, and four Super Bowl MVP awards. The Titans secondary has been on fire during training camp, and you can be sure former Patriots defensive backs Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan will be stoked for these practice sessions. The competition should be fun to watch, even though receiver Julian Edelman won’t be out there. He’s still out, recovering from a thumb injury.
Marcus Mariota vs. Patriots Defense
Mariota has been mostly solid during training camp, although the Tennessee defense has had the offense’s number in some recent practices. So it will be interesting to see how the offense fares against the Patriots, and their defense. Mariota had plenty of success against the Patriots last season, throwing for 254 yards and two touchdowns in a win in Nashville. How will the Titans and the team’s receiving corps, including Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, look against New England this time around? Remember, Humphries picked the Titans over the Patriots in free agency. In his return, former Titans cornerback Jason McCourty will be among those trying to frustrate them all in a Patriots jersey.
Logan Ryan on Monday scoffed at the notion the Patriots might be coming to town with something to prove. After all, the Titans did thump the Patriots, 34-10, in a game at Nissan Stadium in November. “They won a Super Bowl last year,” Ryan said with a smile (see video below). “So they got the last laugh in that regard.” At least one Patriot, however, admitted this week, “You never forget” when asked about the game, and some stinging comments from Titans running back Dion Lewis, formerly with the Patriots, afterward. “You never forget the remarks after the game,” said Patriots safety Duron Harmon, per the Boston Herald. “You don’t forget how we played, what it felt like to lose that way. You remember that stuff.” Joint practices always spice things up. With the past – from players to coaches to last year’s game – this one could be feisty.
Edge Rush vs Patriots
Watching the Titans in practices, I’m getting a sense the defense could be pretty special this season. If there’s a question mark, it has to center on the pressure from the edge rushers. The Titans have talent at OLB, no question. Cameron Wake has proven it during his career, and now Harold Landry and Sharif Finch would like to prove themselves to be disruptive defenders on a more regular basis. Same for Kamalei Correa. All three have flashed in camp, especially Finch and Landry. And they’ve been competing against guys who know them. This week, they’ll try out their moves vs o-linemen in another uniform.
The Head Coaches
Titans coach Mike Vrabel enjoyed a great deal of success playing under Belichick in New England, and their friendship and working relationship helped put this week’s practice plan in motion earlier this offseason. It’s always entertaining to watch Vrabel, who bounces from one field to the next, oftentimes working in drills himself. And if you’re a football fan, this week provides a chance to set your eyes on one of the greatest coaches ever in Belichick, who was born in Nashville and shares a home in the area with his long-time girlfriend. “We just love the people and love the atmosphere down there,” Belichick said of Nashville prior to last year’s game.” I’ve gone over to Puckett’s, it’s a great area. We love the people down there.” It will be cool to see these coaches work against one another this week.
Practice vs. Game Reps?
At the end of the week, the Titans and Patriots will face each other at Nissan Stadium in preseason game No.2. We’ll have to wait until then to find out how much the starters play in that game. It will also be interesting to see how the two coaches – Vrabel and Belichick – treat the practices vs. the preseason game. I suspect we’ll see a lot of guys get work in over the next few days that could see their work scaled back when the pads come on Saturday. So if you’re looking to see 1s vs 1s and great competition for an extended period, the practices might provide that more than the game, when the work of the first-teamers will likely be more limited.