Combo scrimmages fit 18-game solution

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With almost 160 players dotting two practice fields and multiple drills going on simultaneously, it was difficult to figure out what to watch at Tuesday morning's joint practice between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.

As my eyes darted back and forth, ESPN's Michael Smith and I stood under a tree and discussed what a pleasure it was to take in the scene -- Tom Brady working one field, Drew Brees the other.

Scrimmages such as this should be part of the equation for an 18-game season.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and I debated the 18-game season last month. I'm all for it.

One of the drawbacks to an 18-game schedule has been the argument over eliminating two preseason games.

Would teams have enough prep time for the regular season? Would they be able to properly evaluate their rosters? Would players have a fair shot to make the cut? Would officials have enough time to get used to enforcing new rules?

The solution to those questions seemed obvious while watching the Patriots and Saints engage in the first of three practices Tuesday and Wednesday outside Gillette Stadium.

They competed at what's called a "team pace," not quite all-out, but lively. There's no tackling, but plenty of hitting and an obvious spirit of competition. They competed in individual drills, seven-on-seven, 11-on-11 and in special teams.

"What's pretty neat about this deal is you're not really sure what they're going to," Patriots quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien said. "It's the preseason. They're not really sure what we're going to do. It gives us, as coaches, a good chance to [watch film] and come back out this afternoon to see if we can make some adjustments."

Joint scrimmages would need to be overseen and scheduled by the league to maintain a level playing field.

As of now, they're done at the clubs' expense. If that were to continue, then organizations such as the Patriots, Dallas Cowboys or Washington Redskins would have a colossal advantage over the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars or St. Louis Rams.

The atmosphere was great for the fans who attended. They were able to see two teams in an intimate setting, take pictures and get autographs.

Joint workouts get teams ready for the season, give back to the fans and are great for the game.