FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady and Drew Brees combined to pass for more than 10,000 yards in 2011, so clearly they have something figured out in that department.
But the quarterbacks, the faces of their franchises, are determined to maintain their edge, and thus have sought out individual coaching beyond that offered by the Patriots and Saints.
And after the death of Brady’s longtime mentor, Tom Martinez, earlier this year, Brady sought out a new passing guru, and he settled on Tom House — who just happens to work with Brees as well.
This week, House and his two star pupils have spent time together after the New England-New Orleans joint practices at Gillette Stadium. On Tuesday, the three were sitting on the manicured grass of one of the practice fields, Brady’s dog by his side, chatting for around 20 minutes.
Though they both played in the Big Ten (Brady at Michigan, Brees at Purdue) and are just over a year apart in age, the quarterbacks’ paths haven’t crossed very often. Brees did say that the two worked out together in Southern California during the offseason this year.
But that doesn’t mean Brees hasn’t watched Brady closely.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Tom,’’ said Brees. “I mean, we’re similar in age, he’s only a year older than me, a lot of it’s just been for me watching from afar.
“Of course, there’s those times we’ll see each other in the offseason, we’ll talk, we’ll text message here and there. But really it’s just kind of admiring from afar.”
His admiration for Brady extends to the film room as well.
“I know during the offseason when I’m looking for things that I want to get better at, maybe trying to introduce new concepts in our offense or just thinking about that next season, I very often turn on tape of other quarterbacks in the league to watch what they’re doing and Tom has certainly always been one of the guys that I’ve watched,” Brees said.
Last year, Brees broke Dan Marino’s 27-year old NFL record for passing yards in a season with 5,476; Brady also eclipsed Marino’s mark, with 5,235.
Maybe it’s because of their relationship, or perhaps because he’s a contemporary, or even their shared Big Ten background, but Brees knows whom he’s going with in the argument about all-time great quarterbacks: Brady.
“Certainly he’s one of the best, if not the best of all time,” said Brees.
The last time Saints guard Ben Grubbs was in Gillette Stadium was in January when Sterling Moore somehow broke up what would have been a touchdown pass that would have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl. It was also the game in which Billy Cundiff pushed what would have been a tying field goal wide left, costing the Ravens a shot at overtime.
The Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the Patriots in that AFC championship game is a difficult one to forget, even if Grubbs signed a five-year, $36 million contract with the Saints in the offseason.
“We lost a tough battle here against the Patriots,” said Grubb. “I wish it could have worked out differently, but it didn’t. The Patriots, they represented the AFC and unfortunately they came up short.
“That was a tough loss, probably one of the toughest losses, just being that close to the Super Bowl and not getting there. With each loss, you have to put it behind you. Whether I was still with the Ravens or here now, I don’t think it mattered.”
Which end is up?
The three best young tight ends in the NFL — New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and New Orleans’s Jimmy Graham — were on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium for two days, and inevitably there were questions about who is the best.
Of the three, only Graham was willing to vote for himself.
“Of course I would,” Graham said. “I’m young, and the thing about me is I’ve been playing three years and I know I’m getting better. I’m focused on getting better. I know my weaknesses and I know where I need to improve.”
For his part, Gronkowski said there isn’t a competition between him and Graham, though he is the one who came out on top in the records department last year, setting new standards for tight ends with 1,327 yards (to 1,310 for Graham) and 17 touchdowns.
Hernandez is a slightly different player than the other two; he plays a lot more split out wide as a receiver. He reverted to a tried-and-true Bill Belichick adage when asked to make a comparison.
“We’re all good players, we’re all different and all got different qualities,” he said. “But, um, I’ll say it is what it is.”
When asked Tuesday about the Patriots tight ends, Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo singled out Hernandez as a particular problem.
“You’ve got a challenge,’’ he said. “It’s not one here in New England, it’s two, and they’re both really good. Hernandez, we had trouble covering him today.”
Lineman Hill signs
As they continue to see offensive linemen miss time with injuries during training camp, the Patriots Wednesday signed another undrafted rookie to bolster the unit: Kyle Hill. Listed at 6 feet 6 inches, 306 pounds, Hill was a four-year starter at Duke . . . According to the flip card for Thursday night’s game, the referee will be David White. It is hard to find information on replacement officials, but website Football Zebras believes White was a head linesman in the Division 3 Midwest Conference last fall.