Week 2 of Patriots organized team activities came to a close on Thursday with the media once again getting a look at the team on the field. Making evaluations and observations when the players are wearing helmets and shorts is always difficult business, but one thing that has been apparent in each of the open sessions was the demeanor of Tom Brady.
The quarterback's demonstrative behavior is nothing new on the practice field, of course. We've grown accustomed to his demanding professionalism over the years, and it should comfort all Patriots fans to know the drive that has existed inside their quarterback is very much alive.
On Thursday he was extremely vocal, letting his teammates know emphatically what is expected in New England. That included both positive and negative feedback as he corrected the manner in which some routes were run while also enthusiastically praising the solid play of others. In short, Brady's leadership remains very much one his biggest strengths.
That has always been a huge positive for the team but given the addition of several individuals who could become big parts of the offense in 2012 it may take on even greater importance. Specifically, wide receivers have often had a difficult time getting up to Brady's speed in the Patriots complex offense, and having the quarterback's full attention should only benefit that process.
One thing that could aid that process, according to Brady, is the experience some of the newcomers have in the system. Jabar Gaffney (2006-08) andDonte' Stallworth (2007) each spent time in New England while Brandon Lloyd played for offensive coordinatorJosh McDaniels in the Patriots offense for the past three seasons in Denver (2009-11) and St. Louis (2011).
"We've brought in quite a few guys. So hopefully the mix of guys that we had last year along with the new guys can create some different options for us," Brady said. "It's a very competitive position. All of our days at practice have been very competitive. But it'll help our defense out, it'll help our offense out. The more good players you have, the better team you're going to be.
"It's only our sixth day of OTAs. Obviously we have a lot of work to do before the season starts. It's been a lot of fun being out there, seeing Donte' and Jabar, who I've played with before. And I really loved playing with those guys. And obviously Wes[Welker], Deion[Branch] and Chad[Ochocinco]. We have a very competitive position."
Clearly competition for jobs among the receiving corps will be among the most fierce of any positional battles during training camp. Trying to work everybody in will be a challenge for Brady, but he explained during a radio interview on "The Dennis & Callahan Show" on Sports Radio WEEI earlier this week that nothing will be guaranteed for any of them - newcomers or returners.
"It's different with different players," Brady began. "There's a lot of things that go into being a good player, especially on our team. Coach [Bill] Belichick always tells us it's not an easy program that he runs. Some guys come from other teams, and maybe they're not really held as accountable on a daily basis, but Coach Belichick - if I throw an incompletion, I'm going to hear about it. I think guys come, maybe they've been in the league for a while, and they're like 'Why is he always yelling? Why is he so tough on us?' He just tries to keep the pressure on us, because he feels that's the way that he gets the most out of us.
"I think that you can tell relatively early the way that a guy responds to that type of coaching, you can look in his eyes in the huddle and see how confident and comfortable he is in what you're asking him to do. Sometimes you get in the huddle and I'm looking at the guy and he's looking at me, and he's got this expression on his face like, 'Oh God, what's the play? Am I going to know where to go? Am I going to know how to do it? Am I going to be able to do what the coaches are asking me to do?'
"Some guys you know right away, some guys it takes a couple of months. Obviously it can't take forever. This is a performance-based business, if you're not on the field performing and helping the team win, you're not going to be around long, you can't just think that you're going to have two redshirt seasons and then you're going to be the second string behind the fourth-year senior and then you're going to get your chance to play. You're going to have to establish your own role for yourself. If you don't, you're not going to be in this business very long."
As he spoke on Thursday his excitement was evident. Rather than sounding like the hardened 13th-year veteran that he is, a quarterback who has been through more than his share of mundane spring practices, Brady more resembled a wide-eyed rookie relishing every opportunity to improve.
"I appreciate it every day. I think that one thing that my injury taught me a few years ago was how fragile this game is," Brady said. "To be able to take the field every week is really a blessing. Maybe at 34, I feel a little differently in that sense. I love it just as much now as I ever have. I love being out here for the OTAs. Going on 25, I was probably [upset] about the OTAs. But when you're 34, you're not. You're saying all right, let's see what kind of team we got. I really got nothing else going on in my life. So I try to come out here and do a good job for this team."
One thing Brady is not interested in is looking back. The Patriots bitterly disappointing loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl last February is a distant memory and he understands the importance of keeping the past in the past.
"That's part of the offseason and part of learning as a player," he said. "Hopefully you get a chance to be in that position again. But at this point we've tried to move on, and you look to see what this season is going to be about. It's a different group of players, different coaches, a little different system. You're trying to put together a team that can go out and compete every single week. You don't look back too much in the past and say, 'What if, what if?' You'd drive yourself crazy. At some point you have to put it in the past and move on."
Fortunately for Patriots fans, it's much easier to do so with Brady at the helm.