CLEVELAND — The Browns and Colts tried to hold joint practices last year. General managers John Dorsey and Chris Ballard wanted to get their two teams together for practices, but it just didn’t work out.
This year, they pulled it off. The two teams will hold two joint practices at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana, today and Thursday before playing a preseason game on Saturday afternoon.
“We made it a point to make it work out this year,” Dorsey said. “I think it’s good for everybody. They’ll get something out of it, we’ll get something out of it and that’s why you do things like this.”
The Browns last held joint practices in 2016, when they traveled to Tampa to practice against the Buccaneers. They practiced with the Bills the year before that. There aren’t many players left from those two years. Left guard Joel Bitonio is one of the few.
“The Bills, there were a ton of fights and we didn’t get as much practice time as we wanted to,” he said. “And the Bucs, it was like 110 degrees. I just remember it was the one time in my life when I thought, ‘I just need to get through this practice.’”
The Browns and Colts are two up-and-coming teams in the AFC, which makes this matchup intriguing, even without Andrew Luck involved. Here’s your joint practice guide.
Why joint practices?
The preseason has become more about players down the depth chart and less about starters gaining rhythm and playing together. Teams have turned to joint practices as a vehicle to get good work in a controlled, scripted environment.
“I get a lot out of it,” Dorsey said. “Now, both head coaches have to be on the same page in terms of how they’re going to structure practices and they have to be of like minds.”
“There’s a trust level,” Ballard said. “We both understand how we’re going to practice and how our guys are going to act and take care of each other and get some work done. That’s critical.”
Ballard loves what the competition can do for his team, especially high-level competition.
“We did it last year versus Baltimore and, we’re still a young football team, but we were really young last year,” he said, “and the work we got against a good Baltimore team was good for our players.”
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens and Colts head coach Frank Reich talked over the summer to get everything organized. There likely won’t be live tackling periods, but there will be pads.
“We are not going [out there] to practice against them in helmets,” Kitchens said.
Which isn’t a surprise. Kitchens’ camp has been a physical one so far. It’s not going to change just because they’re in a different location.
“Now, it is just a matter of going in and seeing what you got against someone else,” Kitchens said. “Wednesday and Thursday are not going to make or break our season, but it is going to give us a little barometer of where we are at from a physical standpoint.”
The player perspective
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry participated in joint practices twice when he was with the Dolphins, once against Carolina and another time against Philadelphia. He likes the idea of the Browns testing themselves against a good opponent.
“They were a playoff team last year,” Landry said, “so for us, that’s where we want to be and we get a chance to do some stuff against them.”
Plus, it will be refreshing to surprise the guys on the other side, which isn’t easy in camp.
“The (Browns) DBs know our routes, our splits and stuff like that,” Landry said, “so it is good to go against the people that have not seen it before and be able to execute.”
Bitonio likes the idea of going against a different opponent for a few practices.
“It’s always good to go against someone new,” he said. “You get to see a new defense. It’s getting tiring seeing the same people everywhere and hitting the same guys every day.”
Still, the veteran guard thinks preseason games are more valuable, at least for a lineman, mostly because the quarterback can get hit in the game. That means there’s no getting away with a mistake.
“If I had to pick one, (I’d pick) the preseason game,” he said. “It’s live action. It matters. Every play matters.”
In 2016, it was too hot to fight. Like Bitonio said, it was just about getting through. There were some fisticuffs in the joint practices with Buffalo the year prior. Tempers can flare during these things. Fights break out in camp when teams practice against each other, so naturally it can happen when the competition ratchets up against another team.
“Football’s a very tough and aggressive game and sometimes young men want to do some fighting,” Dorsey said, “and, to me, there’s no place for that in practices because you get nothing accomplished.”
The key phrase this week is taking care of each other. Yes, it’s someone in a different helmet, but it’s also practice.
“We are going over there to compete,” Landry said, “to take care of each other, to take care of both sides, their guys and our guys, but we are coming to compete.”
And hopefully avoid those viral Twitter videos of two teams going at it as tensions boil over.
Kitchens, for his part, isn’t concerned. The last time there was a fight in his camp, he stopped practice and made the whole team run gassers. If his guys didn’t get the message and decide to turn these joint practices into a brawl, Kitchens is ready to deal with it.
“You saw what happened last time,” he said. “It does not matter to me. Whatever they want to do. We do not practice penalties, so if we start practicing penalties, there are consequences.”
Could we see two full teams run gassers? Maybe we’ll find out.