Foxborough, Mass. The only problems that got Tom Brady off the field were thunder and lightning.
The Patriots quarterback even kept playing through a torrential downpour Thursday, leading the offense through its paces.
“Throughout the monsoon, or whatever you want to call it,” wide receiver Greg Lewis said, “he was fired up: ‘Let’s get up to the huddle, break the huddle, let’s get out there and get this thing right.’ “
Brady was back on the first day of New England’s training camp, taking snaps just as he did before he was knocked off the field for the 2008 season by a left knee injury in the first quarter of the opener.
He dropped back and threw a 20-yard pass that bounced off Ray Ventrone’s hand, a sideline pass that just eluded Wes Welker, and a long completion over the middle to seventh-round draft choice Julian Edelman. He made handoffs and faked others.
“Any time you have your best player on the team back, it’s a great thing,” Welker said.
About an hour into practice, clouds moved in. A heavy rain began. Umbrellas sprouted. Fans abandoned the hillside and metal bleachers next to the field. But the Patriots stayed out there — until a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning sent them running for cover during a field goal drill, ending the session about a half-hour earlier than planned.
“I don’t mind a wet ball out there, but (we’ve) got to call it when thunder and lightning are in the area,” coach Bill Belichick said.
It was a sunny day in Foxborough last Sept. 7 when Brady, trying to pass, was hit in the lower left leg by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard. He lay on the field and was helped off. Matt Cassel replaced him and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. But they missed a playoff spot because of a tiebreaker.
Now Cassel is in Kansas City, where he was traded, and Brady is blending back in.
Running back Kevin Faulk has been with the Patriots since 1999, one year before Brady arrived as a sixth-round draft pick from Michigan. He doesn’t think he has to see Brady do anything special before deciding the 2007 NFL MVP is ready to play at full strength.
“I might have seen it already,” Faulk said. “When he’s out there, he’s out there. Nobody’s paying attention to him. Nothing different from when he was there last year. He’s just playing football. That’s it.”
Brady’s fitness was no surprise to his teammates. They’ve practiced with him in optional team activities, a minicamp in May and informal workouts.
“All the players that are out there are ready to go. They are participating fully,” Belichick said.
Brady, who is expected to talk to reporters today, normally doesn’t play much in the exhibition season, which starts in two weeks on Aug. 13 at Philadelphia.
“Tom’s worked very hard to get back out on the field in his rehab and doing what he did in the spring,” Belichick said. “He’s certainly a big presence on our team and it’s good to see him back out there.”
But he wouldn’t say how much he plans on using him in this summer’s games.
“We’ve thought more about this afternoon’s practice and what we have to do there,” he said. “We have a lot of short-term goals and are very shortsighted here.”
Welker and Randy Moss, who practiced Thursday afternoon after sitting out the morning session, lead a deep receiving corps with Joey Galloway and Lewis.
Belichick must decide on replacements for outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, who went to the Chiefs with Cassel, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs, traded to the Eagles. He must decide how to apportion time among three over-30 running backs — Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor — and fourth-year veteran Laurence Maroney.
Taylor signed as a free agent after spending his entire career, 11 seasons, with the Jaguars, where he rushed for 11,271 yards and caught 286 passes.
But he never had a quarterback like Brady.
“Playing these guys a few times here in the playoffs, you look over and you’re like, ’Ah, we can go and beat that team. What do they do that we can’t do? We can go and win this game,’ “ Taylor said. “And when you get here, you see his passion, you see the way he studies, you see how demanding he is of his players and the leadership, and right in front of you, it just jumps out and you see why he’s a proven winner.”
Brady’s personal life made headlines with his marriage to supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
Faulk seemed puzzled by that.
“I got married a few years ago, too,” he said to a roomful of laughter, “but nobody talked about that.”