FOXBOROUGH — Far from being a man in repose, Tom Brady was nonetheless reflective as he stood on the threshold of a significant milestone. The Patriots quarterback will celebrate his 36th birthday Saturday, making him the elder statesman of the 90 players on the team’s training camp roster.
Any special plans? “Practice,’’ Brady said. “At 9 o’clock [Saturday] morning.’’
“My 30th birthday I think we had the day off, because I had a barbecue on my roof deck,’’ he said. “A surprise birthday party. That was a long time ago. Six years ago — oh my God.’’
Time marches on. It stops for no one. Not even Tom Terrific.
In a cover story for the September issue of Men’s Health magazine, Brady said he would entertain the notion of playing football into his 50s. “I would love it,’’ he told Men’s Health. “If I think I can do it, then I probably will.’’
Friday, Brady completed his seventh day of his 14th training camp. There was no rest for the weary. But even Brady seemed to relish the daily grind. He seemed to throw himself into his work, helping the Patriots integrate a host of newcomers to a sophisticated offense — which experimented last season with a no-huddle, fast-break scheme — he hopes will not sputter under his stewardship.
So, after seven days of camp, did he feel any differently about playing well beyond his 40s, and into his 50s?
“I feel better as camp goes along,’’ Brady said, a wry smile creasing his well-chiseled, tanned face. “Every day I feel like my legs get more under me. My arm gets better, so I’m enjoying it. I love this sport, I love playing it, I love being out here with my teammates and playing.
“I’m trying to take it day by day this time of year. I think that other [magazine] piece was more of a reflection piece. This is day to day. We’re trying to come out and work hard and put together the best that we can do.’’
The challenge Brady faces is helping the team retool its offensive arsenal in the wake of Wes Welker’s departure to Denver, Rob Gronkowski’s offseason back surgery, and Aaron Hernandez’s dismissal and incarceration on a murder charge.
To fill the void, the Patriots signed receiver Danny Amendola, drafted rookie receivers Aaron Dobson (second round, 59th overall) out of Marshall University and Josh Boyce (fourth round, 103d overall) out of Texas Christian, and collected a group of tight ends that includes Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui, Jake Ballard, and Zach Sudfeld, an undrafted rookie from Nevada.
“I think a lot of guys are trying to create roles for themselves,’’ Brady said.
“There’s a lot of opportunity and every time you take a rep, you’re trying to do better than the previous time. So there’s a lot of moving parts right now.
“The tempo is important, the personnel is important, getting the formation right is important, running the right play, all those are little things that become big things. There’s not a lot of practices we have left before we go down to Philly [for joint practices and the first preseason game against the Eagles next Friday night], so we’re trying to correct as many mistakes as we can.’’
Brady was pleased to see the return of wide receiver Julian Edelman, who suffered a season-ending fractured right foot at Miami Dec. 4, but was cleared Thursday to come off the PUP list and wound up practicing that day.
“It was great,’’ Brady said. “I mean, any time you can get guys back healthy . . . Julian has been working his butt off to get back out here. I’m right next to him in the locker room and he’s been excited every day. That excitement he brings to the practice field, he’s out here working really hard just like anybody else.
“He’s a tough kid. Mentally and physically, he’s battled through a lot over the course of his career. I know he’s been working hard in his rehab and hopefully it continues to go well.’’
With so many pieces to this offense, Brady has had to tolerate more than a fair share of miscues, missed reads, throws, and patterns as he acclimates himself to a new group of receivers.
“A challenging part of offense is when you got new guys and they’re not really sure when I’m throwing it and I’m not sure when they’re going to break,’’ Brady said. “A lot of it we just have to work out. The more reps we get, the better we’re going to be.
“So just to come out every day and make these type of improvements are important. You can’t go out and miss three or four days of practice because you just get so far behind, especially at this time of year.’’
Brady stressed that if the Patriots are to keep pushing forward, it is imperative that everyone — including the newcomers — keep pace with the volume of work and information they are being given as the team installs its offensive packages.
“It’s hard to slow down something for one person, because the train’s really moving at this point,’’ Brady said. “So, it takes really smart football players to be in this system. Guys who have done well have been smart players who can adjust quickly. Football is important to them, they go home and they study and they work at it. That’s what it’s all about here.’’
But Brady knows mistakes are inevitable.
“We’re all going to make mistakes,’’ he said. “I make ’em. The young players make ’em. Everyone makes ’em. It’s just a matter of how critical those mistakes are going to be. Hopefully, our bad plays are just incomplete passes and not really bad plays.
“You got to try and eliminate as many bad plays as possible, but they’re going to happen and part of the challenge is being mentally tough to come back on the next play and doing a good job.’’
And for the Patriots to operate at smooth hum, everyone has to be on the same page.
“That’s what we talk about after practice, that’s why we watch the film, that’s why we talk about throws, reads, routes, and techniques, and playing with anticipation,’’ Brady said. “When you really believe with the guys you’re out there with, you can play fast and you can play with confidence.
“If you don’t play with that confidence, then it slows you down, and if it slows you down, then you’re going to make mistakes. So that’s what we’ve been working on. I can always do better, and come out and get better every day and make the right reads and make the right throws.
“We haven’t played football in 7-8 months, so timing is an issue and you’re just trying to get your timing down with the [new] players and it’s a work in progress.’’
Brady declined to single anyone out as favorites among the receivers.
“All of those guys that we have at receiver are trying to do the best they can do,’’ he said. “They’re working hard, whether it be the veterans or the rookies.
“I really don’t have too many favorites. I just like the guys that come in and want to work hard and do the right thing. Those are the guys that end up making the team.’’
Did he mean, specifically, the guys who were capable of getting open for him?
“The guys that get open, yeah,’’ he said, lighting up. “Guys that create some space to throw the ball and not when it’s just created for you, but when guys create space by themselves and separate from the defender — those are important traits.’’
They are vital to the survival and longevity of any NFL quarterback, let alone those in their mid-30s hoping to play into their 50s.Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.