The New England Patriots will be making their way to the Greenbrier in West Virginia to spend three days practicing with the Saints before the Aug. 22 preseason game between the two teams, Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed on Thursday after a report by Pro Football Talk.
New Orleans also contemplated scheduling joint practices with the Houston Texans on Aug. 30, but Payton and the Saints ultimately decided to stick with the Patriots.
Payton said the fact that Houston will be the featured team on HBO’s Hard Knocks didn’t play a big factor in the decision to hold joint practices with only one team.
“I think this will be the third time we’ve done it, and that’s really the only planned joint practice,” Payton said. “We’ve discussed and talked about a second team, but really, the decision was more about getting back into a schedule here. And then certainly, I recognize the fact that they’re going to be featured on Hard Knocks, but it’s really about what’s best for us.”
The Saints will head back to New Orleans permanently after the preseason game against New England.
The level of familiarity Payton has with Patriots coach Bill Belichick has built a level of trust in practicing together.
“Our experience has been when we’ve had practices with New England, and I can’t speak for Bill, but I think we’ve done a really good job of focusing on certain periods (of practice and points of emphasis),” Payton said.
For the players, the joint practices come at a good time, right in the middle of a camp that can start to feel long.
“I enjoy it, because it breaks up the monotony of camp,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You just get tired of going up against each other and the same old deal every day. Any time you have a chance to go up against a defense that’s naturally give you different looks, different personnel, it’s almost like preparing for a game a couple days in a row when you’re going up against another team.”
The NFL’s decision to make extra points more difficult by moving the line of scrimmage back to the 15-yard line immediately makes a good kicker a little more valuable, according to coach Payton.
In a perfect world, Payton would like his kicker to make a 33-yard kick as automatic as the old extra point has been — kickers made 99.3 percent of their extra-point tries in 2014.
If a coach isn’t confident in his kicker, though, Payton thinks the new rule could change a coach’s decision-making early in the game.
“A lot of it would be, how do you feel like you’re hitting those kicks?” Payton said. “Certainly, that accurate kicker, I think, it increases his value a little bit, because he’s going to hit a number maybe higher than the norm.”
If a kicker isn’t a lock to make those 33-yard tries, Payton said he might be more likely to try a two-point conversion.
“I think it would affect possibly when you go for two, maybe earlier in the game than not,” Payton said.
The Saints, obviously, have an open kicking competition between Dustin Hopkins and Zach Hocker after cutting Shayne Graham shortly after the team’s rookie kick.
Payton would like whoever wins the job to make his decisions on extra points a little easier.
“Hopefully, we can convert the point-after kick from that yard line as efficiently as we can from the 2,” Payton said.
The Saints shook up their scouting ranks by parting ways with area scouts Brian Adams and Ryan Hollern last week, a source confirmed.
The moves came late last week, after the initial rush of scouting changes that often come after the draft.
New Orleans also let go of college scouting director Rick Reiprish this offseason and replaced him with Jeff Ireland, who officially serves as the assistant general manager.
Adams and Hollern both spent six seasons in New Orleans.
Fox Sports first reported this news.
QB Garrett Grayson, S Jamarca Sanford, CB Damian Swann, LB Jerry Franklin, C Max Unger, OT Andrus Peat, DL Brodrick Bunkley, and DL Glenn Foster were among those missing from practice. RB Mark Ingram was held back with a minor ankle ailment. Unger was missing because of the birth of his child, Grayson was at the rookie premiere, and Peat is still in college.