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Tom Brady quietly goes about his business

Quarterback Tom Brady looked like he was doing a yoga stance as he loosens up during the first day of Patriots training camp.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady stood in the middle of the practice field, lightly tossing a football with his teammates at the start of practice around 9:22 a.m. Thursday.

“What time did Brady get out there?” I asked a cameraman stationed along the sideline.

“Wait, he’s out here? When?” the cameraman replied. “What the . . . ?”

A few dozen cameras and hundreds of eyeballs had been fixed on the stream of Patriots players heading out of the locker room and onto the field for the first day of training camp. Everyone wanted that shot of Brady walking onto the field and going to work for the first time since he accepted his four-game Deflategate suspension earlier this month.


But Brady had sneaked onto the field from the back entrance and suddenly appeared among his teammates, as if he had emerged from the cornfields. It was a foreshadowing of how Brady chose to work on Thursday — quietly, with as little fanfare as possible.

We haven’t heard much from Brady since the 2015 season ended. He posts on Facebook occasionally and released a statement two weeks ago about accepting his suspension, but he hasn’t spoken publicly or answered a question since the Patriots lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game in January. Thursday was not the day to break his silence.

The 12,393 fans in attendance badly wanted Brady to know how much they support him and believe in him. They packed the bleachers and hillside surrounding the practice fields at Gillette Stadium, chanting “Brady! Brady!” when he jogged nearby, holding up their homemade pro-Brady and anti-Roger Goodell signs, and cheering wildly when Brady threw a corner fade touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.

“I can’t believe he’s standing right there,” one fan said as she took out her iPhone camera.


“This is like a religious experience,” another fan said to his friend.

For the first 11 of 16 practice periods, the Patriots were still Brady’s team. He took the first snaps in every individual and 7-on-7 drill, a sign of respect from the coaching staff that this is still Brady’s team as he enters his 16th season as the starting quarterback.

Brady slung multiple touchdown passes to Chris Hogan, Aaron Dobson, and Gronkowski in the non-contact workout. When he wasn’t participating in a drill, he worked on his footwork and his shuffle, or took a knee and intently watched the other quarterbacks taking their snaps. He chatted up new tight end Bear Pascoe, old friend Matthew Slater, and team owner Robert Kraft.

“He’s just normal Tom. Nothing’s changed,” running back LeGarrette Blount said.

“Very refreshing right now just to be with a guy who’s so passionate about what he does,” said receiver Nate Washington, participating in his first Patriots training camp after spending 11 years with Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Houston.

Brady’s four-game suspension, his lengthy legal battle, and the absurdity of the Deflategate investigation were put on the back burner, at least for a few hours. Brady was back in his element, with nothing to worry about except finding his check-down receiver.

“Whatever circumstance you put Tom in, he’s never going to change because he comes out to practice no matter what — if he’s suspended, if he’s not suspended, if he’s playing, if he’s not playing,” Gronkowski said after practice. “No matter what the circumstances are, I’ve never seen Tom Brady come out and not give it all in practice. There’s never any change in him. Whenever he’s out on the field he’s giving it all and he’s just such a competitor.”


But then the reality of Brady’s situation hit home over the final five periods of practice. Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be the quarterback for the first four games of the season, and Bill Belichick said Wednesday that “our priority now then is to get Jimmy ready for the start of the season, for the Arizona game, so that’ll be obviously a comprehensive process.”

When it came time to do the full-team, 11-on-11 drills, Garoppolo was handed the reins first, not Brady. It was Garoppolo who got to throw to Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, and against the first-team defense. Brady was relegated to bystander status, and took his reps with mostly backups.

Brady did plenty of work with Gronkowski and Bennett on his own when the Patriots practiced special teams drills. But Brady was not the priority of the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks guru Josh McDaniels spent most of his time paying special attention to Garoppolo — particularly after practice, spending 15 minutes alone working with his third-year pupil.

Garoppolo looked confident on his first day of camp, zipping touchdown passes and looking like a 10-year veteran as he ran the offense.

“Three years in the same offense, same team, same organization, you just get used to things and things come more naturally to you,” he said. “Nothing has really changed. When they put me in for the reps I’m in for, I’ll go out there, do my best, and do whatever the coaches ask.”


Brady was stoic and focused as always on Thursday. Gronkowski and Bennett waved to the crowd when fans called out their names, and Julian Edelman chuckled at a lighthearted heckle from a fan. But Brady was in his own world on Thursday, and wouldn’t acknowledge anyone standing outside the white lines.

“Hey Gronk! Brady! Get over here and sign some autographs!” a fan shouted toward the end of practice.

Gronkowski obliged, and delighted fans with autographs for 15 minutes.

“Where’d Brady go?” one woman asked her family a few minutes later.

He had taken his jersey off and sneaked off the field through the back exit, choosing to neither be seen nor heard on Thursday.

Watch Ben Volin and Jim McBride’s report from Day 1 of training camp:

Photos: Day 1 of Patriots training camp

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin