PHILADELPHIA — After two days of playing patty-cake with Eagles quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles the Patriots defensive line is ready to hit someone for real.
Yes, practice is practice, they concede. And it certainly has value, both sides saying these joint workouts the past two days have beneficial. But nothing beats game day.
Friday can’t come soon enough when this week’s gracious hosts and their appreciative guests can put the niceties aside and get down to business in the preseason opener.
"Yeah, I’m sick of tagging off," said Rob Ninkovich, now in his second season on the D-line after starting off as a linebacker. "I’m ready to wrap up and take someone to the ground.
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"But this (joint practice) isn’t a game. The quarterbacks aren’t live, so I’m gonna treat them as I would my teammate."
D-linemate Vince Wilfork, who finds himself the senior member of Bill Belichick’s defense in his 10th season, says it comes with the territory.
"You just have to know how to be a professional," said the 31-year Wilfork following a practice that was bumped up two hours due to expected nasty conditions and ended just as the rain began to fall. "You have to have good practice habits … I always try to practice smart. We don’t go ‘full go’ and take down. We’re not taking them to the ground because we’re so used to it as pros.
"But on game day everything’s live. You can go through your progressions and make tackles. You can be a little bit more aggressive, bump guys and be physical on game days. You practice to get prepared for game day."
Unlike the offense, which is going through a radical facelift, particularly at the skill positions, the Pats’ defense in 2013 will look much like last year’s. That’s especially true for the front seven, with journeyman Tommy Kelly the only new addition to a unit that returns all but one of its top 17 tacklers.
But they’d prefer to downplay that, saying what’s in the past doesn’t matter, focusing instead on tomorrow night as the first step leading to opening day in Buffalo next month.
"It’ll be good to see everyone against different competition," said the 29-year-old Ninkovich, who led the 2012 team with eight sacks. "When you play your own team you don’t get that same feeling as going against someone else.
"The competition level rises a bit. Friday we don’t want to see drop-off in the level of play when the personnel changes."
Ninkovich’s eyes light up when asked how to attack a team using the read-option, considered a staple of Kelly’s teams in Oregon.
"I enjoy that," admitted Ninkovich. "That read option for me is a green light to hit the quarterback. When you’re running that play you turn your quarterback into a running back. But Vick’s body of work speaks for itself. When he scrambles it changes things."