A packed house is expected for three days this week at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., where all eyes will be on future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the rest of the New England Patriots.
The Patriots and the Redskins earlier this offseason agreed to three joint training camp practices leading up to their preseason opener Thursday evening at FedExField, giving the two teams the opportunity to trade a couple early blows before getting the chance to do it in front of a TV audience.
The joint practices were the brainchild of Belichick and first-year Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, who has experience with joint training camp practices as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff.
Gruden said the Bengals' joint practices with the Atlanta Falcons were extremely beneficial – especially more than halfway through camp, when players can get sick of hitting their own teammates each and every day.
"Initially going in I wasn't too fired up about it, but going into it and just giving them the chance to practice against different people, I think that's the big thing," Gruden said. "You get tired sometimes of seeing the same people over and over again as a player is concerned. Now you're going against somebody else and somebody else that's trying to make a team so the competition should be fierce, I would think."
Simple processGruden said he contacted Belichick in the spring to begin planning the joint practices.
It didn't take much time for a schedule to surface from that juncture.
"It's all planned out and ready to go," Gruden said of the practice plans. "We feel good about it and then we can always adjust after the first day if something needs to be changed, but we both felt very good about it."
Gruden said the primary goal for both teams is to produce highly-competitive sessions for both teams, which will be especially beneficial for the younger players.
"It's a great opportunity for some of these young guys to really show what they have against another football team that's been very good for a long time," he said. "I think it's a great chance for everybody to learn and get better and also a great chance for us as coaches to evaluate our guy and evaluate what we're doing schematically."
Picking brainsThe practice sessions will also be a prime opportunity for the younger Redskins players and coaches to pick the brains of those on the Patriots, who have been a model of consistency in the NFL the past 10 to 15 years.
Since 2001, the Patriots have made the playoffs 11 times, winning the AFC East title each of those seasons, while claiming five AFC championships and three Super Bowl titles (2001, 2003 and 2004).
"I'm sure we're going to communicate," Gruden said of Belichick. "We'll be out here together for those three days, so, yeah, it's a great time. Like I said yesterday, the New England Patriots were a model franchise for a long time and they've been consistent in what they do and their approach and winning games."
Gruden said he hopes quarterback Robert Griffin III can also pick up a thing or two by watching Brady, a two-time league MVP and nine-time Pro Bowler.
"Hopefully Robert will see the way Tom Brady handles the huddle, handles his teammates and as a leader and as a person and as a player," Gruden said. "Any time you get a chance to learn from somebody like that firsthand, you better use it to your benefit."
For his part, Griffin III said his focus during the joint practices will be on the Patriots' defense. But that doesn't mean he won't be taking peeks at the man in the red No. 12 jersey from time to time.
"To tell you I won't be looking at Tom Brady and seeing what he's doing would be a lie," Griffin III told the media on Saturday. "I'll be looking at him. He won't be the focus of my attention the entire time he's here. But he's been a great quarterback in the league for a long time, so you want to soak up whatever knowledge from him."
Griffin III has already faced – and learned from – many great quarterbacks already in his career. He said it's important to keep his focus on the task at hand, which is getting quality reps in practice and carrying it over to the FedExField turf on Thursday.
"At the end of the day, I have to practice against the New England Patriots' defense," he said. "I'm past the goo-goo, gaga eyes over players that you see on the field."
Come earlyMonday's first practice is set to begin at 8:35 a.m.
All fans are encouraged to arrive early, and those who did not acquire tickets via the Redskins' lottery system will be eligible to line up in a designated standby line near the entrance to the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center along DMV Drive.
Fans in the standby line will be admitted on first-come, first-served basis according to available space and safety considerations.