Patriots' offense sharpens up ahead of 'first test' in joint practices

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For weeks now, the Patriots have talked about "the process" they're going through as a team -- on both sides of the ball, of course, but especially on offense.

Even linebackers coach Jerod Mayo's more general comment before Monday's practice that training camp wasn't about scheme so much as "finding out who can play football" felt as apt a way to describe the offense's methodical mode of operation as any thus far.

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But even they know the time to put up or shut up is nearly at hand. In fact, starting left tackle Trent Brown says gut-check time starts tomorrow when the Carolina Panthers come to town for two days of joint practices ahead of Friday's preseason tilt.

"I think [joint practices] will be our first test, yes," Brown told reporters after Monday's practice.

The Patriots opted to hold the first-team offense out against the New York Giants last Thursday -- a move that generated a good deal of criticism given how uneven the offense has looked throughout training camp.

Monday's decision to "clean up some things" from last week, as Bill Belichick put it before practice, and to continue adding new concepts -- there were more RPO and boot play-actions than usual during this most recent session -- hints that the offense perhaps wasn't ready for unveiling last week and wanted to use the day to tune up for Tuesday's first practice against Carolina.

That will just shine the spotlight even brighter on tomorrow's proceedings, which will likely be at an even higher intensity level than previous practices.

"I think that's the benefit right there: seeing some different guys, seeing different bodies," Brown added. "Definitely the competition level I think will go up. It has to, or you get your ass beat out here."

If that happens to the Patriots' offense on Tuesday and Wednesday, the panic level around that unit will reach fever pitch. But a solid performance could quiet some questions -- for a day.

Either way, those report cards Bill Belichick has been putting off for his offense these last few weeks are about to come due.