Early Monday morning the Patriots left their hotel outside Las Vegas, surrounded by fast-food joints in strip plazas popping up from dusty, flat earth, hung a few turns and found their way to the futuristic football oasis where the Raiders are headquartered.
Built over a span of 15 months for an estimated $75 million, the Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center rises from the Mojave Desert about a dozen miles from the Bellagio Fountain and is no less spectacular.
“This is magnificent,” said head coach Bill Belichick, his back to the 130,440-square-foot building housing a regulation field and a half, while facing an outdoor pool used for rehab and recovery. “I’ve been to a lot of good facilities and there’ve been some amazing college facilities, but I’d put this up there against any of them.”
As Belichick spoke, Patriots players were just getting to work on the three pristinely-manicured, natural grass fields, where they practiced on their own before engaging in joint workouts the next two days with the host Raiders.
“I mean, forget about the amenities, (it’s) the fields, the weight room, the offices, the indoor facility, the proximity, the ease of everything. Yeah, this is…this is as good as any I’ve seen,” Belichick continued, before correcting himself. “Better than any I’ve seen. Not as good, better than anything I’ve seen. It’s outstanding. It’s great for us to be able to work here. Ideal working conditions.”
Overall, the Raiders’ facility takes up 33 acres. In addition to being 150 yards long, the field house used for indoor practices has a 108-foot-high ceiling; so as to remain unscathed by even a Ray Guy-like punt. There’s an agility hill and sand pit. The weight room Belichick referenced, where the Pats got a lift in immediately after practice concluded. And the aforementioned pool.
“Nice pool here,” a smiling Belichick remarked, as temperatures climbed out of the 80s shortly after 9 a.m. “It’s pretty tempting.”
Afterwards, at least one Patriot, Raekwon McMillan submerged himself, prompting the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride to ask Jakobi Meyers if he considered joining his teammate.
“It looks appeasing right now,” he joked, peering over a black fence toward the water. “I might jump the gate, get a little swimming in.”
Of course, on Tuesday the guest Patriots will be joined by the facility’s residents for joint practices. With a lot of ex-Pats on the Raiders’ staff and roster, starting with head coach Josh McDaniels, one expects this week to go swimmingly in comparison to the fight-marred joint practices with Carolina last week.
A key to maximizing their time, Belichick says, is “finding the right tempo.”
“It’s easier said than done, and sometimes things get either a little above or below that, so you just have to adjust it,” he said, when asked if familiarity can help avoid the contempt.
“Other than a couple of plays last week, it really wasn’t a problem. But there were a couple of plays and we all have to do a better job with those, so hopefully that won’t come up this week. We’re not expecting it, we’re not looking for it.”
The flame still burns
The first thing one comes to entering the front gate to Raiders Headquarters is an Olympic-like cauldron, part of one of many memorials to the Hall of Famer synonymous with the franchise as a man who held the titles of its head coach, general manager and principal owner.
At its base is a quote:
“THE FIRE THAT BURNS THE BRIGHTEST IN THE RAIDERS ORGANIZATION IS THE WILL TO WIN” – AL DAVIS –
Under Davis’s direction, the Raiders won four league championships, including three Super Bowls. Much more, they were an iconic franchise branded as renegades, yet models of progressiveness.
Davis hired the NFL’s first Latino head coach, Tom Flores, in 1979. A decade later, he hired the league’s first Black head coach, Art Shell. Then he made Amy Trask pro football’s first female chief executive.
Following the 1998 season, Belichick almost went to work for Davis in Oakland. He interviewed for the head coaching vacancy. Trask recommended that he get the job. Davis instead chose Jon Gruden.
Nonetheless, Belichick remained friends with Davis. And as he expressed on Monday, remains a true admirer.
“We’ve had a good relationship through the years,” he said. “Did some deals, the (Derrick) Burgess deal, the (Randy) Moss deal. Those weren’t five-minute conversations, they were multiple weeks, maybe even months.
“Ton of respect for Mr. Davis, everything he’s meant to the National Football League and the AFL, (as) one of the early founders, and what he’s done for professional football, what he’s done to bring equality and opportunity to so many and his championship level of performance and the standard that he set for himself and his teams and organization are historical. Tremendous man and was a huge influence on professional football. I’m sure the game would be a lot different if it wasn’t for him, different today than if it wasn’t for him. I think we’re all indebted for what he’s done to help this game. And certainly as a coach and a professional in the game, to me he’s one of the Mount Rushmore guys.”
Trent Brown (77) was one of several Patriots offensive lineman back in action on Monday. (Photo by Bob Socci)
Back in line
Hours after his name surfaced in a report about conversations between the Patriots and potential trade partners, Isaiah Wynn showed up for Monday’s practice just outside Las Vegas as one of four offensive linemen returning from recent absence.
Wynn, who according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer in his Monday Morning Quarterback column, is someone the Pats “have talked with other teams (about)” trading. Limited by injuries to just 34 games his first four years in the NFL and playing this season on the ‘fifth-year option,’ the 2018 first-round draft pick was not available for last week’s joint workouts and preseason game vs. Carolina.
But as the Patriots convened at Raiders Headquarters in Henderson, Nev., preparing for back-to-back practices with host Las Vegas, Wynn was back at right tackle. Albeit in a red non-contact jersey.
Meanwhile, Trent Brown, Justin Herron and Bill Murray, who also were held out of Friday’s win over the Panthers, were present as well. Brown lined up at left tackle, Herron backed up Wynn at right tackle and Murray, a converted guard, conditioned under the supervision of training staff.
Receiver Kendrick Bourne was another notable back after being held out of Friday’s game. From this vantage point, he resembled the energetic player who put together a career year in 2021, finishing one rep with the ball in his hands to high and low fives from teammates.