By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
‘Practice like you play’ is a pretty common sports cliché. It’s not a bad one, but the New England Patriots coaching staff take it to another level.
Speaking with reporters on Friday, linebacker coach Jerod Mayo told reporters “The saying around here is to make practice harder than the games, and we try to approach it that way each and every day.”
Mayo added that this mindset is crucial to the team’s success. “No matter what people say, you have to practice that way to be able to go out there on game day and perform the way you want to perform.”
Running backs coach Ivan Fears elaborated, “The whole point is, by the time we get to game day, everything they’re doing should be as easy as pie. It’s never as easy as pie, but it should be easier than what they’ve been doing in practice.”
According to co-offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, “Coach [Belichick] talks about it all the time. The most important thing that we do is practice. That is the best preparation for games. Everything leading up to that, so far as your training, offseason training, your rehab, your diet, is in preparation for practice.”
For cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino, approaching practice this way is his natural state of mind. “That’s been my whole life. Practice has always been harder than a game since high school, college, just working here. So for me, that’s just a way of life.”
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Now in his sixth season with the Patriots (second as CB coach), the 27-year-old says it’s one of the first things he tries to teach new players. “That mentality, you’ve got to instill it in your players. Most of them have had it instilled from day one. There are no shortcuts around here…You go out there with hard work and preparation, and get it done…That’s the standard.”
Defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington added, “We want to make practice harder than the game so that way when the game time comes it’s actually easy…During those deals throughout practice, you’ve got to get more reps and run and everything than you would during a normal game, and we’re going to strain you and make you work hard during practice so when you get to a game it’s going to be a lot easier.”
So how do the Patriots go about making practice more of a challenge?
According to Mayo, the natural conditions of training camp are a huge help. “The pads definitely make it harder. Some of these days are pretty warm as well,” the former Patriots linebacker said. “So not only are we practicing as far as X’s and O’s, but also our conditioning. Can we run around in the pads for whatever the given time is for that given practice? So it’s good for conditioning, good for not only like your lungs but also just your shoulders and all that stuff as well.”
For Fears, some of what he hopes to instill in his players in practice is problem solving. “There are a lot of things you need to overcome when you get to the game,” he said, “and hopefully we can challenge them enough in practice to where they can deal with all the issues they are going to see on game day.”
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Bricillo says he has continued a practice he picked up from his predecessor, legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia. “You make your individuals the hardest part of practice,” he told reporters. “And if your o-linemen aren’t saying that individual period is the hardest part of practice, then in my opinion, I don’t think you’re doing it right.”
In his first year as the offensive line coach in New England, Bricillo says he’s found success in this method. “There’s a standard here. This is a group of guys that come to work every day. We’re not pulling teeth and begging them to do it. We got great leadership in the room with David, Joe, Shaq, Isaiah and those guys. It goes on and on. They come to work everyday, and they know the individual period is going to be a grind, and we want it to be.”
Covington added how important the extra reps in practice are. “You’ve got to get more reps and run and everything than you would during a normal game,” Covington said. For him, it’s about making sure his players empty the tank. “We’re going to strain you and make you work hard during practice so when you get to a game it’s going to be a lot easier.
Without a preseason, it’s even more crucial for the Patriots to get the most out of their practice reps, not just for player development but player evaluation as well. With no preseason games, full speed reps are the best tools coaches will have when making decisions on the initial 53-man roster.
As is usually the case, the Patriots will continue to chart a course that seemingly runs contradictory to the current NFL practices. While some observers are criticizing coaches for making practices too hard, the Patriots are ramping things up. And perhaps now more than any other season, the strategy is setting them up for success.
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