You might think that sounds crazy. How can a team benefit from getting in a fight during practice? If it’s a regular team practice of course, it’s absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes tempers flare and there’s a little pushing and shoving. As long as that’s as far as it goes, that’s just being competitive. But punches being thrown, guys on the ground, that’s being a terrible teammate. You’re on the same team in the end. If you get beat by your teammate, ask them what they think you did wrong and learn from it. You can only grow from the competition of your own teammates. I’m glad in recent memory there’s never been a situation like that in Green Bay Packers camp. But what about joint practices against another team? Can joint practice scuffles actually benefit your team?
There have been joint practices between teams for over 40 years. But they didn’t just become common until the late 2000s. Teams like to use them to see how they stack up against another squad outside a game situation. Give their players a little experience 1×1 against a non-teammate where they can show what they have. Sometimes they can be beneficial, and sometimes they can be disastrous. Which is partially the reason why when joint practices became so common, the Packers wanted no part.
In the Ted Thompson era, there was no way the Packers would have a joint practice. There was too much worry of injury. It was one thing for a player to get hit by his teammate and get hurt. It was a whole new ballgame for an opposing player to do so. Thompson once cited an example from his own playing career as a good reason. He was playing for the Houston Oilers having a joint practice with the Denver Broncos. One of Houston’s safeties got a big hit on a Denver player. Denver’s coaches took exception and Houston’s coaches stated they’d straighten it out. Instead, the Houston coach praised the hit. It wasn’t his player getting hit, so it didn’t matter.
Mike McCarthy as well wasn’t a fan. Outside of unnecessary practice hits, he also would mention fights breaking out in joint practices. There’s no room for that nonsense, so McCarthy wanted no part alongside Thompson.
Welcoming the Competition
As soon as Matt LaFleur’s tenure began as Head Coach of the Packers, the joint practices began too. Lafleur would talk about how it helped them gauge true progress. For the Offense to play the same Defense and vice versa over and over, it can get stale. Joint practices help open up the competition. In the Preseason, you’re not going to have your starters play a lot. So, to see how you stack up against another number one squad without it counting, is very beneficial.
Since LaFleur took over in 2019 the Packers have had joint practices with now four different teams and one more scheduled. In 2019 they joined with the Texans, 2021 the New York Jets, 2022 the New Orleans Saints, and 2023 the Cincinatti Bengals. They also have joint practices scheduled with the New England Patriots on the way.
Recently in the Packers joint practice with the Bengals Wednesday, there was a scuffle with Guard Elgton Jenkins taking a swing at Bengals Defensive Tackle D.J. Reader. Jenkins was escorted out of practice; no repercussions are expected.
So, what about these scuffles that commonly occur in these joint practices? What happens when players get in to shoving matches with the other squad. Or possible punches are thrown. Are they beneficial? Are they just un-called for distractions? I would say, beneficial.
It can build a comradery or prepare for true battles
You might think any scuffle is bad. Which it can be from a certain point of view. If your guys are just aimlessly swinging at the opposition, you’ve got some behavioral issues on your hands.
But sometimes, it can build relationships between teammates. It can build a comradery. I’m a hockey fan after football where fighting is allowed. One of my favorite fights is when a big hit is made on a player and teammates come to their aid going after the opposing aggressor. That shows your teammates that you have their back.
In football, it can be the same. In joint practice, if an opposing player takes a shot at one of your teammates, you’re coming to their aid. You’re showing that you’re not going to tolerate that against your team. Your team won’t be pushed around.
You also want to see that your team is ready for those hard-fought games. Rivalries like divisional games are going to full of pushing and shoving. There will be many words exchanged, possible cheap shots taken. You’re showing your team won’t take anything from anybody.
Perhaps the most important thing a scuffle can show coaches is that their team is ready. The offseason is over. The competitive juices are now flowing, and this team is ready to go to battle. It shows who’s ready to defend their teammates.
Defending your teammates can come in two forms though. Are you shoving back in your teammate’s defense? Well, that can show your willingness to protect your teammates. Especially if you’re an offensive lineman. Linemen coming to the defense of Quarterbacks, Receivers, Halfbacks, that shows their willingness to take care or “little brother.” They’re going to show the opposition if you want to mess with our guy you have to go through us first.
If you’re trying to pull your teammate out of a scuffle, that’s fine too. That shows you don’t want your teammate to get in trouble to meet any unnecessary consequences. Either way, it’s a label of being a good teammate.
Obviously brawls in a joint practice aren’t pretty. You don’t want a full-on fight. That’s when you dangerously approach behavioral issues. But a scuffle with maybe one or two swings, I think is fine. Defend your teammates, defend yourself, and show that your squad is a force to be reckoned with.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.