By: Bob George/
August 14, 2013

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FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3. And they're having combined practices with them. The horror.

Now the Bucs will know everything about the Patriots. Greg Schiano, the Tampa Bay head coach who hates the victory formation, will find a fish or two out there in that porous Patriot defense. LeGarrette Blount would love to show his old team that they made a mistake in letting him go, but the Bucs have Doug Martin and don't care one iota.

And that's not the worst. How in the world can the Patriots surprise the Bucs with Tim Tebow and all his wonderful talents?

Some folks don't much care for this sort of canoodling between two teams who will meet in September when things get real. Bill Belichick has made this a tradition for the Patriots, inviting upcoming preseason opponents to come up for joint practices, or setting up similar road trips, like last week in Philadelphia. Belichick has a lot of coaching friends, some of them with ties to the college ranks, which is why you see so many Rutgers players on both the Patriots and the Bucs as Schiano came to the Bucs last year from the State University of New Jersey.

These joint practices are terrific, and it doesn't matter that these two teams play each other in Week 3. Neither team is going to show the other what tricks they have up their sleeve. These are practices, nothing more. It is so much better than going against your teammates day after day, week after week. Different players coming in for practice present different challenges, and it makes both teams better for it.

Last week, some Eagle players accused the Patriots of practicing too rough. No such complaining has come out thus far from any Buccaneers. Any Eagle players who complained of too much rough play deserve a big boo-freaking-hoo and need to get tougher. And better, as Friday night's 31-22 Patriot win showed. The coaches have good control over these practices, and lots of good work appears to be getting done.

But does this sort of close quarters with an upcoming opponent mean that one team will gain an edge over the other next month?

One needs to be reminded of what is going on right now. Some teams across the NFL are undergoing radical scheme shifts (like last week, with Philadelphia changing to a base 4-3 defense). But for the most part, these teams are merely going through drills, some in 7-on-7 and some 11-on-11 formations, practicing elemental football rudiments. These practices are not about game planning, installing complex schemes or trying to beat Tampa Bay at Gillette Stadium Friday night.

What this is, for example, is giving Aqib Talib a chance to work against taller receivers versus the guys on his own team (some of whom are his former teammates). It gives Ryan Mallett a chance to read someone else's defense. The running game can see how well they can pop open holes against the Buccaneer defense. Guys get tired of hitting their own teammates day after day; these practices allow players to hit unfamiliar players, within the parameters established by Belichick and Schiano.

One thing about these combined practices, and those of years past, is that the Patriots generally do this against NFC teams. The Patriots play mostly NFC teams in the preseason anyway; they haven't played an AFC team in the preseason since a 2009 contest against Cincinnati. Their combined practice opponents in past years have included New Orleans, Atlanta and the Giants. In each case, Belichick had strong ties with someone in the organization (Sean Payton, Thomas Dimitroff, Tom Coughlin). Last week's opposing head coach, Chip Kelly, is someone Belichick knows from the college ranks like Schiano, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Pat Hill. Again, all these teams are interconference opponents with next to no history versus the Patriots (the Giants excepted).

This practicing obviously would not be cricket against divisional opponents. One could imagine what a combined Patriots-Jets practice would turn into. Even conference opponents would be ill advised; it would be a circus if the Patriots tried this with Denver and Peyton Manning, and bringing in Baltimore would be just plain stupid.

But it works fine with NFC opponents, even teams who will show up on the regular season slate. If the Patriots have anything they are saving for the Bucs, they simply won't show it this week. And the same goes for Schiano and the Bucs. The Patriots won't see all that Martin can do, they won't see what quarterback Josh Freeman cannot do, they won't get anything more than fifty different flavors of vanilla.

But they will get valuable practice time. Bubble players on both sides will get to see how well they stack up against each other, and against the varsity players as well. Both teams can run basic packages against an opponent instead of against themselves. Belichick and Schiano can learn about each other's team, but they will learn more about their own teams first and foremost. And for players like Talib, Blount and Tiquan Underwood (and Patrick Chung last week), it allows them to renew old friendships.

Those people who are afraid of how this will affect the regular season meeting are really worried over nothing. It will be another good week of practice, another beneficial game Friday night (assuming there are no catastrophic injuries), and a good chance for both coaches to assess what they have, where they're at, and where they need to go. It won't be about knowing what's coming in September or useful film study to help bring that about.

Put it this way. Schiano won't come out of this week scared stiff of Tebow. And Belichick won't find the miracle answer to neutralize Martin.

Meanwhile, it doesn't matter what team he plays for, Underwood still has the worst do in NFL history. Cut that hair and do something else, Tiquan.