Just prior to the Patriots return to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Wednesday morning Bill Belichick was asked if he was planning anything special to celebrate quarterback Tom Brady's 39th birthday.
"Practicing," Belichick said, delivering the dry line in his unique style.
But even the coach may not have known exactly the kind of work the ageless passer would put in on his big day.
Not only did Brady take his usual reps in the full-pads workout that lasted a little more than two hours under sunny skies and warm temperatures, but the future Hall of Famer put in extended time on the field after the session concluded. In fact, TB12 was the last player to leave the field, long after most of his teammates had been long gone.
The extra work time began with a fun but clearly competitive game with backup-turned-fill-in-starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady had a ball boy line up in a stationary position approximately 40 yards down field in various spots. The two passers then took turns trying to drop deep balls into the waiting hands of their target, a sort of version of the "bucket drill" that takes place on practice fields everywhere with quarterbacks attempting to drop throws into a garbage can.
Throw after throw, target after target, different location after different location, Brady had the upper hand in the impromptu accuracy battle. Many of Brady's throws were perfect, hitting the ball boy in the hands. On the ones that he wasn't perfect, he was still closer than Garoppolo. Brady's throws were also prettier than the occasional flutterer that the younger understudy put forth.
After the competition, which included play-action throws, boot legs and throws rolling in both directions totaling more than a dozen deep balls for each quarterback, Brady gave Garoppolo a low-five and pat on the butt after the practice field beatdown. The two then chatted for a few minutes.
But as Garoppolo walked off the field to meet with the media and then retreat to the locker room, Brady got the ball boy who'd served as the receiver in the battle and got back to work. First he did a series of planks behind the far goal posts with the ball boy slapping at his midsection with padded hands. Then the ball boy connected a tether to Brady for the quarterback to do some extra running and agility work, things we've seen him do on the practice and game field with regularity in recent years.
View a collection of the best images from Patriots Training Camp in Foxborough on Wednesday, August 3, 2016.
Brady may be 39. He may be suspended for the first four games to open the season. But he's still the best quarterback the Patriots have, by far. He's also probably the hardest worker the team has, even on a hot August day that also just happened to be his birthday.
Beyond Brady's impressive throws and workout, here are one man's blogservations from the grassy hill in front of the media tent while being distracted by his kids:
--The players on PUP remain unchanged, with Julian Edelman (foot), Danny Amendola (knee/ankle), Dion Lewis (knee), Tre' Jackson (knee) and Clay Harbor missing practice. All but Lewis was seen on the field in some form or fashion.
--Defensive tackle Alan Branch was not in helmet and pads to open the workout, but was in full attire later in the session as he's been removed from the NFI list that he'd been on since the opening of training camp due to a reported hip issue. Branch didn't appear to do a lot of drills during the practice as he eases his way into action.
--Those players not taking part in Wednesday's practice included Chris Hogan (shoulder), Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington (illness), Donald Brown (leg), Jonathan Freeny, Bryan Stork and Jonathan Cooper (foot). Hogan was on the field watching and taking part in pre-practice stretching/form running. Washington continued to be on the field watching drills, though he has not practiced since the first workout of camp last Thursday, when he vomited on the field. He believed it was due to something he ate, but has not returned to action since.
--Shaq Mason was far more active in today's practice, taking reps in team action on the same line as Nate Solder. Mason had been primarily a spectator during Monday's practice.
--Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon continue to practice in red, non-contact jerseys, though they do not appear to be limited in any way.
--Returning from a day off, and back on the regular Gillette Stadium practice fields for the first time since Sunday, there was some new paint work done on the fields. The field nearest Gillette had "DEFENSE" painted in the end zones, while "OFFENSE" was painted in the end zones of the field closest to the fan bleachers.
--Fans in attendance broke into impromptu renditions of "Happy Birthday" at least four different times during the workout. Belichick joked before practice that it wasn't just Brady's birthday. "First of all, I don't think we want to miss Chris Barker's birthday as long as we're celebrating," Belichick said, referencing one of the team's backup offensive lineman.
--During early pre-practice work, a group of special teamers had 1-on-1 battles between gunners/coverage man and blockers down the field. At the same time wide receivers and cornerbacks worked 1-on-1 in press coverage situations.
--World renowned, Boston-based rapper Mr. Lif, a passionate Patriots fan, watched the practice from the hill behind the end zone.
--Rookie hybrid safety/linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill has had a strong start to his career and is getting a long look in a variety of special teams roles. Coaches have begun calling the young player "K.G.," a nickname that obviously will have local sports fans recalling former Celtics star Kevin Garnett.
--James Develin had to take a penalty lap early in practice for some unseen infraction.
--Garoppolo threw a deep ball down the right side for James White early in practice that the back wasn't able to haul in. Later in practice White had to dive for a similar throw that fell incomplete. Wheel routes and fades down the field don't seem to be a strength for White, an issue that was obvious late last season.
--During one group drill the offensive line, from left to right, was Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon. Mason worked in at right guard later, while Kline took reps at center.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="454916"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]--In early group action the linebackers engaged and then shed the one-man sled before scraping to the outside to make a tackle on the large rolling ring bag that's a newcomer to this year's camp drills.
--Brandon King and Matthew Slater spent time working with Joe Judge, long snapper Joe Cardona serving as a blocker for the two coverage aces. Belichick addressed such time with the special teams players in his pre-practice presser. "If that's their major role on the team then that's the time we can get to work on it, on their individual techniques, not just the team part of the drills, punt coverage, or kickoff return, or whatever it is, but the individual techniques for that players positon that he plays then that's how he improves his skills," Belichick said, referring to the Pro Bowler Slater and others like King.
--Malcom Butler had a nice pass defense on Chris Harper in a 1-on-1 battle with a pass from Brady.
--There was a segment focusing on the interior running game, or 9-on-7. Neither side got the nod in the action. The defensive line got some penetration on some plays, but got gashed at other times.
--Malcolm Mitchell toasted Justin Coleman on a short comeback type route in 1-on-1 work. The rookie Mitchell has come on in the last few practices, making major strides and stringing together a few impressive workouts with a lot of the veteran wide receivers sidelined for various reasons.
--During the interior running work, it was interesting that Garoppolo handled the handoffs to the running backs while Brady and Jacoby Brissett were on the other field working the 1-on-1s with the receivers and defensive backs.
--Harper, who Belichick said has improved as much as any player in the last year, beat E.J. Biggers for a catch in the battles. Steven Scheu beat Vinnie Sunseri, while V'Angelo Bentley had a nice pass defense on Mitchell.
--One of the plays of the day, at least in terms of competitive battle and circus result, came with Harper and Ryan fighting for a ball in the right side of the end zone. Ryan had tight coverage on the throw of the front right side of the end zone and the two fought over the throw. The ball continued to tip and bobble through the air before Ryan came away with the interception on the end line, back toward the middle of the field a bit.
--Tyler Gaffney has a little bit of burst for a guy who weighs 220.
--The new-age version of the Oklahoma drill was done again. It pits a blocker and defender face up between two large tackling dummies with a back getting a handoff. There are actually two different stations of the drill. One has offensive and defensive linemen, the other with smaller blockers/defenders doing battle. Malcom Brown beat Ted Karras badly in the drill. The rookie offensive lineman's performance seems to have leveled out a bit in recent days after an impressive start to camp.
--On the side with the smaller blockers and defenders safety Patrick Chung, in line waiting for his turn in the drill, took swipes at the ball carriers as they went by. One such swipe by Chung actually led to a Devin Lucien fumble, of course caused by a guy not actually in the drill.
--Cyrus Jones continues to get a ton of kickoff and punt return reps as he's seemingly being given every chance to prove himself in those roles as a rookie. During many kickoff reps Jones is back deep with Slater.
--LeGarrette Blount had a bad drop on a pass play down the right sideline with no defender. The annoyed back then quickly kicked the ball out the back of the end zone in frustration.
--One kickoff return rep saw Develin back deep as the up back next to Bentley.
--Jones and Bentley worked off to the side catching Ryan Allen punts at one point, with Jones dropping one of his first attempts. Bentley seems to give frequent and late fair-catch signals on punt returns, some of which he doesn't appear to get a legal signal with his hand above his head. Worth watching in preseason action.
--During 1-on-1 battles between the offensive and defensive linemen, Chris Long blew by Cannon on an early rep. Kline did a nice job against Joe Vellano, who later beat Andrews. Thuney held his own against Brown.
--Both Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich had to run penalty laps for jumping offside in the 1-on-1s. Sheard actually engaged the pad on the goal post in a pass rush move as he ran his lap, making the most of the time.
--Cardona worked as the shotgun snapper for Brady in 7-on-7.
--Brady and Garoppolo both had bad overthrows on deep outs in 7-on-7. The timing on those plays in particular hasn't looked right.
--Jordan Richards, who has had a nice start to camp, had a pass defense to break up a throw to Martellus Bennett.
--Mitchell beat Jones badly in one 7-on-7 rep.
--Former Patriots Snow Angel-maker (and long snapper) Lonie Paxton watched the practice from the VIP area.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft walked onto the field and watched the latter portions of the practice.
--Brissett showed off his impressive arm on a deep comeback to Mitchell in 7-on-7. He hit the rookie with a strike on a throw that he might make better than his two older teammates even at this early point in his career.
--Brissett got an extended set of reps with Brady and Garoppolo watching later in the session.
--Bear Pascoe was forced into putting the ball on the ground in a ball security drill that had two defenders trying to get the ball free as the ball carriers made their way across the field.
--In red zone team action Butler followed a motioning Aaron Dobson across the formation before then getting beaten badly by the receiver for a touchdown on a post-corner route from Garoppolo.
--Garoppolo then hit a couple more scores on throws to DeAndre Carter beating Ryan and another to Dobson.
--There was some question as to whether Blount got across the goal line before his knee was down in an 11-on-11 red zone segment. Rob Gronkowski, who had a somewhat quiet practice, turned to the defensive sideline to give the touchdown signal.
--Jones made a nice pass defense on a ball from Brady intended for Mitchell in the right corner of the end zone. The play drew a large applause from the top pick's defensive teammates.
--Practice concluded with Stephen Gostkowski and the PAT/field goal team getting their reps against a full defense.
--Chung took punt return reps from the Jugs machine after practice.
--Develin spent time by himself blocking the one-man sled after practice.
--Sunseri and Harmon stayed on the field for extra work with safeties coach Steve Belichick.
--Strangely, E.J. Biggers took some PAT hold reps from Cardona after practice, under the instruction of special teams coach Joe Judge.
--Vellano worked with a couple defensive linemen after practice, including veteran free agent newcomer Markus Kuhn. The returning player was seemingly helping out his new teammates, even though he's likely in a tough fight with those same guys for a role in New England.
--D.J. Foster had to carry the pads of veteran teammates Blount Brandon Bolden off the field.
--Those players meeting with the media after practice included Kuhn, Branch, Garoppolo, Thuney and others.
--The Patriots will return to the practice field Thursday morning at 9:15 a.m. for another session that's open to the public. As always, though, please check back to Patriots.com for any schedule updates or changes.