FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Pat Shurmur had never been involved in joint practices before last year. Not in 14 years as an NFL coach.
Neither of the head coaches Shurmur worked under — Andy Reid in Philly and former Reid assistant Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis — held joint practices, and Shurmur never considered holding them in his two years as Browns head coach.
If Shurmur gets another head coaching job? That will change.
“I’ll embrace it,” he said.
The last few days went that well for the Eagles.
There were no fights, no altercations, no ill will. Just two teams with playoff aspirations practicing productively together for three days on the grass fields adjacent to Gillette Stadium.
“I really looked forward to it after the work we did with them last year, and it was even better this year because our operation is smoother, we’re doing more things, we’re communicating better,” Shurmur said. “We got more out of it, and the competitive part was great.
“I really believe if you can find a match like we have in the Patriots — really professional, we don’t normally play each other because we’re in different conferences — that’s a great situation and both teams can get a lot out of it.
“Coach [Bill] Belichick and Coach [Chip] Kelly set some parameters — this is the tempo we want, this is what we want to get done — and we went out there and accomplished those goals.”
When the Eagles and Patriots practiced last summer at the NovaCare Complex, it was a mismatch.
One team had been to the playoffs 11 of the last 13 years, reached five Super Bowls under its current coach and won three, and another team was just days into its first training camp under its new coach.
This year, the two teams were evenly matched, which means it was more competitive and better work for everybody.
“You can definitely tell that their playbook has gotten a lot thicker,” Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “They’re a lot more comfortable with it than last year.
“Last year it was kind of them being thrown into the fire, but this year in that first day they definitely kind of hit us with something we weren’t used to. I’m definitely glad we got to have this opportunity to go against them.”
The biggest difference between last year and this year was the defense’s ability to make some plays against Tom Brady, who went pretty much unchallenged last August at the NovaCare Complex.
“We understand what happened last year,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “I guess we didn’t understand the pace and then we didn’t necessarily understand our responsibilities within the defense, either.
“We were basically a team that was brand new coming together with guys we’d never practiced with or played [with] in our lives. Just trying to get the system under our belt, and they took advantage of those things.
“Since we’ve had our defense under us for a year and added some new pieces, we shored up our communication and you see a better [quality] of practice.”
Jason Kelce said beyond the benefit of giving the players new looks by working against players they’re unfamiliar with, the joint practices have a bonding effect.
Because instead of Us vs. Us, it’s Us vs. Them.
“That’s kind of what camp has a tendency to do — a lot of times you’re going against the same guy, you’re competing, you’re trying to get a job,” he said. “Teams, which are generally close-knit in-season, during camp can kind of get a little hostile because guys are trying to get spots locked in.
“So to come here as a team playing against a different team, it’s no longer offense vs. defense, it’s no longer me vs. Bennie Logan or Beau Allen, it’s our whole team against the Patriots, and that’s good, that’s awesome. We can really hone in and get down to a collective ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’”
LeSean McCoy said he felt that practicing against a team like the Patriots raised the Eagles’ level of practice.
“Practicing against them, it shows you how veterans practice,” he said. “Trying to get the mental reps. I think if you go out there and tell the guys to be tough, that’s natural. But to go out there and try to get the mental things down pat against another team, [that’s harder], because you’re playing against the same guys all the time and they know the good things you do, your weaknesses, so I think we did pretty good.
“Working hard together and looking good. ... Both teams played at another level but also [were] smart. I felt like we played very aggressive, got to the ball, tackled well, blocked really well, [Nick] Foles did a good job. I think all of us together as a team, we took it to another level and played well as a team.”