You watch Drew Brees coach up his receivers on the field, have total command of his offense and dissect the defense during practice, and think to yourself, “That kind of reminds me of Tom Brady.”
You watch Brees put in almost as much work after practice as he did during it — working with his receivers on Tuesday for 20 minutes, then holding closest-to-the-pylon throwing contests with backup Luke McCown for another 20 minutes — and think to yourself, “That kind of reminds me of Brady.”
And then you hear Brees talk about how he’s nowhere close to the end of his career at 37, how he takes great care of his body and wants to play until he’s 45 — and, well, you can see where we’re going with this.
“I think we’re both thankful for the opportunities that we’ve been given,” Brees said of he and Brady last week while the Saints were in Foxborough for joint practices. “I can’t speak for him, but from knowing him and his approach, I think we both understand we’ve got to prove it each and every time out. We’re in the business of winning, so I think we both have high expectations as to how long we can play. We don’t take it for granted.”
Brady and Brees first met 17 years ago, when Brady’s Michigan Wolverines thrashed Brees’s Purdue Boilermakers, 38-12. The rainy weather at Wednesday’s joint practice between the Patriots and Saints immediately brought the two quarterbacks back to their college days.
“We actually reminisced on that a little bit, because the weather today was the exact same as it was for that game,” Brees said. “Tom actually threw it out. ‘Hey, remember that game, Michigan-Purdue in the Big House?’ They kind of smoked us that day. They were pretty stout that year. Tom had a great day.”
Seventeen years later, they are the league’s elder statesmen — Brady the oldest NFL quarterback at 39, and Brees the second-oldest at 37 (he’ll be 38 in January). Their careers haven’t been too intertwined — Brady is 1-1 vs. Brees’s Saints, but went 0-2 against Brees when he was with the Chargers — and Brees didn’t have much in terms of support or advice for Brady with his Deflategate ordeal.
“There’s really nothing to say,” Brees said.
But in listening to both of them speak, and watching them practice together on the same field for two days, it is clear that they share many of the same traits that have made them both certain Hall of Famers.
The work ethic Brees showed last week was especially impressive. Brady puts in a lot of work after practice, but Brees blew him out of the water, going full speed with his receivers on several routes that they had messed up in practice, and then burning an extra 1,000 calories in his competition with McCown, which entailed firing rollout passes at full speed at the end zone pylon.
“For the guys that I’ve been around, this guy is bar none the most competitive and has the greatest attention to detail,” said McCown, now in his 13th NFL season. “So if any little thing is off, whether it’s timing or footsteps, he’s going to pull that guy over after practice and get two to three routes, just so that’s not a question mark anymore.”
Brees was literally the first person on the practice field and the last person off of it by a good 15 minutes, the living embodiment of the old football cliché. Brees has a hard time turning his coach mode off, even taking the time to help out some of the Patriots during Tuesday’s practice.
|Tom Brady||Drew Brees|
“Drew actually pulled me over to the side and corrected my route and he didn’t even know my route,” Patriots running back Brandon Bolden said.
We don’t get to see this side of Brees much up here in New England, but apparently he hasn’t changed one bit since arriving in New Orleans before the 2006 season.
“This is the only Drew I know. He’s been like this since I remember, for 11 years now,” said 11-year safety Roman Harper. “He’s such a technician, and this is just the machine of Drew Brees.”
And like Brady, Brees is starting to hear questions about his NFL mortality. He’s entering the final year of his contract, negotiations with the Saints have hit a snag, and there’s talk around New Orleans wondering how long the Saints should plan their team around Brees.
On paper, Brees is showing no signs of slowing down, like Brady. He has missed just two games in 10 seasons — a Week 17 game in 2009, and a Week 3 game against Carolina last year. He still led the NFL in passing last year with 4,870 yards despite missing a game, and had a sparkling 32-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
But unlike Brady, Brees did show signs of breaking down last year. He missed that Week 3 game at Carolina due to a shoulder injury, then tore the plantar fascia in his heel in Week 15. He was able to play through the injury over the Saints’ final two games and avoided surgery after the season, but those are the types of injuries that will cause old quarterbacks to fall off quickly.
Still, Brees is back in camp looking healthier than ever, and if he can avoid the big hits this year, there’s no reason he can’t maintain his high level of play, just like Brady has.
“Peyton Manning went down fast, and you could observe that,” broadcaster and former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert said. “But Drew is a young 37. And I think realistically, how he takes care of his body, his lifestyle, if he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll play at a high level two if not even three more years.”
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Torbert clarifies new catch rule
A few highlights from our press conference with NFL referee Ron Torbert, whose crew was in New England last week to officiate practices and present the new rule changes to players and media:
The NFL attempted to further clarify the language in the rulebook that determines what a catch is, with a catch now being completed when a runner “is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.”
Of course, that still leaves plenty of room for interpretation. I asked Torbert if the officials ever felt confused by the wording last year.
“The rule itself is, I think, pretty clear with what you need to do to establish a catch,” he said. “There’s always an odd play here or there. The players are so good, they can do some really amazing things on the field and sometimes they do things that defy imagination. But in terms of what’s a catch, what you have to do to establish a catch, we feel like we have a good handle on it.”
The NFL passed a new automatic ejection rule this year if a player commits two penalties in the same game for taunting, throwing a punch/kick, or using abusive/threatening language. Torbert said he’s not going to be more hesitant to throw that second flag, but his job as referee is to not let things escalate on the field.
“We’re not thinking about, ‘Oh, he already has one, it’s his second one, he’s going to be ejected,’ ” Torbert said. “There are certain instances where we’re not left with any choices, but if I can get between two players and prevent things from escalating, I’d much rather do that than sit back and watch it get out of hand then have to throw a flag.”
Last year saw more high-profile officiating blunders than ever, and we should expect to see more of the same this year. There’s no spring football league for officials to get extra game reps, and the trip to New England last week was the only camp visit for Torbert’s crew this preseason.
The NFL also mixed and matched most of the crews this offseason — Torbert’s crew, for example, has two new members this year. Officials, like a football team, often do better with continuity on the staff.
“Most of the crews had some changes,” Torbert said. “We watch a ton of video, we do a lot of mental reps, we stay in shape, but in terms of actually working games, there’s not an opportunity right now.”
Finally, I had to ask Torbert about the random PSI testing instituted last year in the wake of Deflategate. He said his crew worked one game last year that was selected for PSI testing, and didn’t know about it until before the game. His crew tested the balls and logged the numbers before the game, tested the balls at halftime and logged those numbers, used the backup footballs for the second half, and tested those footballs and logged those numbers after the game.
And what happened to all the data collected?
“All of that information is submitted to the NFL with the rest of our game report,” Torbert said.
So it really should be quite simple for the NFL to find all of the PSI data last year, tally it up, and reveal it to the public. That the league has chosen to protect the data strongly suggests that Roger Goodell and league executives realize how much they overreacted to Deflategate.
Also, Goodell stressed multiple times in the spring that the new rules were instituted as a “deterrent,” and that “Our people never found a violation.” But if Torbert’s crew only had one out of 15 games selected for PSI testing, that suggests that only about 20 of the league’s 256 regular-season games were chosen. The NFL never found a violation, but how hard was it looking?
Odds, ends from joint practices
■ Saints 11-year right tackle Zach Strief has now done four joint practices with the Patriots, and has become a huge fan of Bill Belichick’s organization.
“This is the fourth time we’ve practiced against them, and every time it seems like guys are taking care of each other, understanding what is actually being done,” Strief said. “It’s a competition, yet we’re trying to make sure everyone gets out OK. I have a ton of respect for them for that reason. There’s no team I like practicing against more than them.”
Strief also said that the Patriots’ defensive line helped him prepare for the season by presenting unusual looks that the Saints don’t see too often.
“They do a couple things that are not super common, which is great,” he said. “They are looks that you’re not going to get a ton, but now we’re getting a chance to see them and practice against them.”
■ If anyone can sympathize with the Patriots, it’s the Saints, who were railroaded by Goodell and the league office in Bountygate earlier this decade. The player suspensions were eventually wiped out, but coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season.
“We have a collective frustration, I’m sure,” said Strief, also the Saints’ union representative. “You could be worried about it for another 10 years, but it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing you can do about it. You show up to camp and you’re trying to win a job and win games and all those things. By the time football starts, it’s just football. It’ll be a dead story soon enough.”
■ The way we hear it, both teams were frustrated that they weren’t able to accomplish as much as they had hoped during the two days.
Tuesday’s practice was physical and competitive, but Payton and Belichick were miffed about Wednesday’s practice, a glorified walkthrough in which players went half-speed and played sloppily.
The Patriots’ joint practices usually entail two full-contact practices and a walkthrough, but the scheduling got messed up this time. Both teams were available to start joint practices on Monday, but didn’t for some reason.
Prayers go out to J’Ron Erby, an intern in the Chargers’ public relations department who suffered a critical head injury as the victim of a hit-and-run on Aug. 5. Erby and his friend were crossing a street when they were hit by a wrong-way driver, who is still at-large. Erby’s family has set up a GoFundMe account to help pay for his medical bills .
Speaking of the Chargers, this holdout/feud with No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa is just getting silly now. The Chargers want to defer signing bonus payments and include offset language in his rookie deal, and there is no middle ground. Someone is going to have to blink first, and it will probably be Bosa, who won’t want to miss game checks once the regular season starts. But the Chargers are also projecting a negative image to the public at a time when it badly needs public support for a new stadium . . . Not to give the hype train too much momentum, but a recent visitor to Vikings camp tells us Teddy Bridgewater looks confident in his third training camp and that the physicality of rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell (No. 23 overall pick) reminds him of Dez Bryant . . . Yes, Josh Norman, it’s your free time, and it’s a free country. There are definitely enough hours in the week to play football and tape segments for the Fox NFL pregame show. But after Washington just gave you $50 million guaranteed to be its franchise player and leader, don’t you think you should have at minimum discussed this new dual role with your bosses first? Coach Jay Gruden shouldn’t have to learn about it from a reporter in a press conference. And Norman sets himself up for immense criticism if his play doesn’t match his pay this year, whether it has anything to do with his Fox appearances or not . . . I think Chandler Jones is partially right when he tells USA Today the Patriots are “not known for really paying guys over there.” The Patriots will pay top dollar for non-premium positions like guard (Logan Mankins), safety (Devin McCourty), tight end (Rob Gronkowski), and kicker (Stephen Gostkowski). They each received top-of-the-market (or close to it) contracts for their positions, but still far less than elite quarterbacks, receivers, pass rushers, and cornerbacks.
Worth the wait
One of the most feared pass rushers in NFL history was finally enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Kevin Greene, who got the call in his 13th year of eligibility, put up impressive statistics during his 15-year career. Here’s a look at the fifth-round draft pick’s sack totals: